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Report tallies up 1,200 deficient bridges across Md., Va., DC

Traffic moves across the Arlington Memorial Bridge in this WTOP file photo. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Editor’s note: Because of an error in federal data, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of structurally deficient bridges in D.C. The correct number is eight, three of which are federally owned. 

WASHINGTON — Every day, thousands of drivers around the nation’s capital cross over bridges classified by federal engineers as “structurally deficient.”

All told, more than 1,200 bridges in D.C., Maryland and Virginia were marked structurally deficient last year, according to a new analysis of federal data by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

That includes the historic Arlington Memorial Bridge and several stretches along the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where traffic passes over local roadways.

The structurally deficient designation doesn’t mean a bridge is unsafe or in danger of collapse, but that inspectors have rated one or more of its key elements as being in poor condition and needing repair.

Overall, the percentage of deficient bridges in D.C., Maryland and Virginia comes in substantially below the national average of 9 percent:

  • About 6.7 percent of bridges in Virginia — 935 crossings — were marked structurally deficient in 2016, according to the report. That’s 12 percent fewer than the year before.
  • In Maryland, 305 bridges — 5.8 percent of all bridges in the state — were deficient, a slight increase from the year before.
  • In D.C., just eight bridges — about 3.3 percent of the total— were marked deficient. And three of those bridges are federally owned, meaning the District is not responsible for maintaining them.

The number of deficient bridges around the area has declined in recent years, thanks to increased federal investment. Capital improvement projects focusing on bridges topped $6.6 billion in D.C., Maryland and Virginia between 2005 and 2014, according to the group’s analysis.

But there’s still a lot of work to do, said Alison Black, chief economist with the transportation group.

“We do see improvements, but it’s simply not at the pace where we can really address some of the performance issues that we’re seeing,” Black told WTOP in an interview.

For example, while D.C. has only a handful of bridges classified as deficient, more than half — 64 percent — are marked as “functionally obsolete,” meaning their design standards are not up-to-date with current practice.

Pointing to lane closures and congestion, Black cited the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which was built in 1932, “as an example of what happens when you really don’t take care of our infrastructure.”

A sample of heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the D.C. area:

In D.C.:

  • The Anacostia Freeway over Suitland Parkway SE
  • The Arlington Memorial Bridge
  • The Anacostia Freeway over Nicholson Street

In Maryland:

  • Interstate 95/495 over Md.  214 (right and left spans) in Prince George’s County
  • Interstate 95 Outler Loop and Inner Loop over Suitland Parkway in Prince George’s County
  • Interstate 95 Outer Loop and Inner Loop over Suitland Road in Prince George’s County
  • Interstate 95/495 over Md. 414 in Prince George’s County

In Virginia:

  • Custis Memorial Highway over Ramps B & F in Arlington
  • Northbound lanes of Interstate 395 over Four Mile Run in Alexandria
  • Duke Street over Interstate 395 in Alexandria
  • Northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 95 over U.S. 17 in Stafford County

This list initially included 16th Street NW over Military Road in D.C. as structurally deficient, however that bridge was replaced in 2015. It’s unclear why it was included in the report, although report authors note the status of a bridge can change based on recent work. 


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