In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden talked up his administration’s commitment to repairing and rebuilding faltering bridges through the bipartisan infrastructure bill he signed last year, but it’s mostly the state that will soon be deciding how to start spending new bridge repair money.
Based on federal formula funding increases, the commonwealth should receive about $7.7 billion over the next five years, about 33% more annually than in previous years. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Transportation will distribute over $15 billion in the form of grants through its new bridge investment program for economically significant bridges. The grants will be available for large projects or for smaller bridge projects bundled together.
“This year, we will start fixing 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges in disrepair,” Biden said Tuesday night.
County and regional transportation officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation couldn’t identify specific bridges in Prince William County that might be priorities for funding. However, in 2021 the Federal Highway Administration found three county bridges in “poor” condition during their most recent inspections, which occur every other year for most bridges. The ratings, which can be good, fair or poor, do not speak to a bridge’s overall safety, but instead can represent ongoing maintenance problems, deterioration or other issues. If a bridge is determined to be unsafe, it is closed immediately for repairs.
According to VDOT’s database, one of those in poor condition was the southbound Interstate 95 bridge over Neabsco Creek, which has had problems for years. The bridge had significant repair work done just five years ago after a football-sized hole was found during an inspection. After attempts to patch the hole failed, further work was needed to jackhammer out three bridge sections and replace rebar, closing the southbound lanes for a weekend.
When Virginia’s cut of the bridge repair funding was announced, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine – who worked closely during negotiations to get the bill through the Senate – issued a joint press release saying a focus would be bridges that had received that “poor” inspection rating.
“We’re thrilled to announce this record amount of funding to fix aging bridges across Virginia,” the Democratic senators said in the statement. “Modernizing bridges will improve safety and support economic growth in every corner of the commonwealth.”
Two other VDOT bridges in Prince William are already funded for work. At the Stafford-Prince William county line, the four-lane bridge on U.S. 1 over Chopawamsic Creek has been labeled by the state as structurally deficient. The plan is for it to be demolished and for a new bridge to be built starting late next year, with a total estimated cost of over $8 million.
Similarly, engineering and design has begun for projects to rehabilitate the north and southbound I-95 bridges over Powell’s Creek. The bridges were originally built in 1963, needed repairs in the 1970s and then were widened in 1981 and 1996. Now, the state is planning to repair the steel beams, concrete abutments and piers. The cost is expected to total over $9.1 million, with construction scheduled to begin next year.
“What we don’t want in Virginia is what happened in Pittsburgh [where a bridge collapsed in January],” Warner said at a recent event in Arlington, where local officials are seeking help to repair two dilapidated bridges on Mount Vernon Avenue and West Glebe Road. “Help is on its way for additional funding.”