ARLINGTON, Virginia — The Memorial Bridge is one of the most historic, gorgeous, and well-traveled bridges linking Virginia to D.C., but it could shut down by 2021 if it doesn’t get a major safety overhaul, according to Virginia’s senators and the mayor of D.C.
“We just had a sobering tour of America’s most iconic bridge,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., standing with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, on the Virginia side of the bridge, which carries traffic from Arlington National Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial.
“This bridge is evaluated as the most vulnerable bridge in the whole federal system,” said Warner, who explained the 84-year-old bridge was built with a life expectancy of 75 years.
The leaders described dangerous rusting and flaking of concrete below the asphalt bridge deck.
The Memorial Bridge carries 68,000 vehicles daily, Kaine said.
Warner, Kaine, Bowser and Bob Vogel, the National Park Service’s regional director of the National Capital Region, said the bridge would have to close in 2021 without a $250 million reconstruction.
“The Federal Highway Administration has determined that in 2021 the bridge will no longer be safe for regular traffic, which would result in a full closure,” Vogel said.
The Memorial Bridge already has a 10-ton limit, which precludes many tour buses from crossing the Potomac, Warner said.
The regional leaders want Congress to fund up to $150 million for the bridge reconstruction from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $800 million FASTLANE program.
“This is a National Park Service bridge, it is the responsibility of the federal government [to fix it],” Bowser said.
Failure to fund the reconstruction could be devastating, the leaders agree.
“You think the challenges we’re going through with Metro is significant? You close down the Memorial Bridge for an extended period of time and you’ve got total gridlock,” Warner said.
Closure of the bridge also would pose a national security issue, because of its role as an evacuation route from The District.
Bowser and Warner said if funding is secured, at least some of the six lanes could remain open during the estimated two-year project.
Vogel said the reconstruction project would make the Memorial Bridge safe for another 75 years.