In a rare bit of good news for the Washington region's aging transportation infrastructure, the National Park Service announced Friday that it had approved a $227 million project to repair and rehabilitate Arlington Memorial Bridge, a major commuter artery traveled by 68,000 vehicles a day.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and members of the District and Virginia congressional delegation said in a news release that the contract caps a years-long fight to secure funding to repair the aging bridge, which was determined to be so "structurally deficient" that in 2015 officials barred large vehicles, trucks and buses from using it.
"This is a huge win for Northern Virginia commuters, as well as visitors to the nation's capital," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. "As we celebrate this good news, we should also redouble our efforts to pass a major infrastructure bill so other aging bridges don't degrade to such a terrible condition in the first place."
Added Zinke: "Repairing Arlington Memorial Bridge underscores President Trump's commitment to rebuilding American infrastructure and is a major step in addressing the National Park Service's $11.3 billion maintenance backlog."
Zinke said the bridge project will be one of the largest transportation infrastructure projects in NPS history.
The $227 million will fully fund repair of the 85-year-old bridge. The money will enable officials to complete work on the bridge 18 months earlier than originally anticipated and will enable NPS to save $35 million in construction costs, since the work can be done in one phase rather than two. Major work on the bridge is scheduled to begin next fall and be completed in 2021.
Officials said the work on the bridge, which is owned and maintained by NPS, will extend its life span 85 to 100 years.
"After years of work to secure funding to fix Arlington Memorial Bridge, today's announcement gives us hope that the bridge will remain safe and serviceable into the 22nd century," Virginia Rep. Don Beyer (D) said.
And in news that should please those who regularly use the bridge, at least three lanes of traffic will remain open during the repairs, officials said.
Efforts to secure funding for the bridge, which connects Arlington to the District, were also championed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who, along with Virginia representatives, helped successfully advocate for a $90 million federal grant last year.
NPS almost missed the deadline to apply for funds awarded through the federal Transportation Department's Fastlane grant program. But pressure by congressional representatives and an agreement by the District to co-sponsor the agency's application enabled them to get the necessary paperwork filed in time.
Once the grant was secured, NPS provided $60 million in matching funds, while pointing out that more than $100 million in additional funding would be needed to bring the bridge into a state of good repair.
Kaine said that winning that grant proved pivotal, setting the stage for NPS to allocate the additional funds needed to complete work on what he called "a very beautiful and iconic bridge."
For the past six years, NPS and the Federal Highway Administration have made emergency temporary repairs of the Arlington Memorial Bridge while planning the larger rehabilitation, agency officials said.
If the money had not come through, there was a risk the bridge would have had to close to vehicular traffic in 2021.
According to an analysis by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, closing the bridge could have cost local governments $75 million per year in transportation outlays alone. Traffic studies also warned that the bridge's closure would probably push traffic to other area bridges, particularly the 14th Street Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge.
"It is hard to overstate the importance of this progress on a key transportation project for this region," said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who secured an additional $30 million for the project through an amendment to the Fiscal Year Appropriations Act of 2017. "It required the combined efforts of all of us from the national capital region — those of us serving in both houses of Congress, as well as the District government, the National Park Service and the U.S. Transportation Department."
As part of project, workers will replace the drawbridge span, rehabilitate the concrete approach spans, and replace the concrete deck, according to NPS. Stone curbs and light posts will be reset, and the stone and metal cladding will be restored.
"When I visited the bridge before construction, I saw firsthand how it was barely standing, and why traffic has to be rerouted, bringing even more traffic congestion on both sides of the river," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). "With full funding rather than the phased dollars we already secured, we can finally break ground."