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This time-lapse shot from fall 2018 to December 2020 shows construction workers completely rehabilitating Arlington Memorial Bridge by installing new supports, replacing steel, and placing pre-cast concrete panels.
From fall 2018 until December 2020 the National Park Service completely rehabilitated Arlington Memorial Bridge for the first time since it opened in 1932. The $227 million rehabilitation project, one of the largest infrastructure projects in NPS history, will extend the bridge’s useful life by 75 years. It will also maintain our capital's ceremonial entrance and ensure the bridge continues to serve as a memorial to the sacrifices of our nation's veterans and as a symbol of the reconcilliation between north and south following the American Civil War.
More than a bridge
Arlington Memorial Bridge has served as a monument to the sacrifices and valor of our nation’s military personnel since its dedication in 1932. Now that it is nearly 90 years old, the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration are rehabilitating the bridge for service in its second century. As one of the largest transportation projects in National Park Service history, the rehabilitation of Arlington Memorial Bridge will give new life to our capital’s ceremonial entrance while respecting its character, history, and national significance.
History of Arlington Memorial Bridge's Rehabilitation
Prior to its full rehabilitation, the National Park Service made temporary repairs to Arlington Memorial Bridge and completed a detailed plan to make sure that our work would protect its historic appearance. Read here to learn about tempoary repairs, the NPS planning process, and the rehabilitation project.
During a routine biennial inspection in 2009, FHWA engineers discovered considerable deterioration in the sidewalk deck. As a result, the FHWA increased bridge inspections from biennial to annual. In 2014, deterioration of the bridge had reached a critical level, requiring semiannual inspections of the entire bridge and bimonthly inspections of the main support beams, called trunnion posts. The increased inspections of the bridge cost the NPS $425,000 per year.
To preserve the historic integrity of the bridge, prevent a full closure and provide a safe means of transportation, the NPS invested more than $9 million in emergency repairs since 2010.
In 2017, another multi-million dollar temporary repair project began to extend the life of the trunnion posts, which are the primary posts stabilizing the center span of the bridge. However, without rehabilitation, the bridge would have been required to close to all traffic in 2021 due to continued deck deterioration.
Arlington Memorial Bridge is a key component of the Greater Washington Area transportation network, with an estimated 68,000 vehicles from Virginia (58 percent), Washington, D.C (21 percent), Maryland (14 percent) and out of town visitors (7 percent) crossing the bridge daily. The bridge is also designated as an emergency evacuation route.
According to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a long-term bridge closure would directly impact the three nearby Potomac River bridges: 14th Street Bridge, Roosevelt Bridge and Key Bridge, which already carry more than 400,000 vehicles daily. The planning board estimated a full Arlington Memorial Bridge closure could result in a 22 percent increase in traffic congestion levels along the Potomac River corridor. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments said a long-term bridge closure would have a negative economic impact on the region to the tune of $74.5 million/year in traffic delay costs alone.
Arlington Memorial Bridge's rehabilition was one of the National Park Service's largest ever "mega-projects." Mega transportation projects are projects, such as a major bridge or road repair, that require a much larger amount of funding than is available on an annual basis. Megaprojects include nationally significant transportation facilities that have become functionally obsolete or have exceeded their design life and require large investments to bring them back to good condition. These investments are beyond the capacity of the Federal Lands Transportation Program's (FLTP) annual allocation. The majority of FLTP funds are used for "transportation asset management" - that is, keeping our existing roads, bridges and tunnels in good condition. A key step in planning for these investments is assessing how construction might affect nature, history, and visitors in national parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) selected a contractor to manage the full rehabilitation of Arlington Memorial Bridge in late 2017 and began set-up for construction in 2018. Set-up began with the establishment of two project staging areas with one near Memorial Circle and another on the western bank of the Potomac River. The National Park Service worked with the project contractor to ensure the staging areas would have as little effect on the park, recreational visitors and commuters as possible.
NPS and FHWA engineers took special steps to make sure the construction process would protect and enhance the bridge's historic appearance. We worked with the project contractor to ensure they would take special care to remove, repair, clean, and reinstall more than 4,000 pieces of historic granite. This involved tagging, moving, repairing, cleaning and then reinstalling each piece of granite.
In order to rehabilitate the historic steel fascia (face steel) that hung on the draw-span ornamenting the bridge, the project team repaired and repainted them on barges in the Potomac River. After almost 90 years of service, some of the steel needed specialists' attention to be repaired, and these pieces were sent to specialists who meticulously repaired them before they were reinstalled. After the fascia was completely rehabilitated, workers reinstalled them on the sides of the former drawbridge.
In the center span of the bridge, the NPS decided to remove the functionally obsolete bascule (drawbridge) and replace it with fixed steel girders. The NPS made this decision because other fixed bridges below Arlington Memorial Bridge prevent large ships from traveling up river. In order to maintian the bridge's historic appearance, the NPS worked with engineers and architects who designed a new under-truss structure that looked similar to the former drawbridge.
The NPS made it a priority to keep the bridge open to traffic while construction was happening. The project team kept one sidewalk open for pedestrians and byclists, and they installed lit signals to direct drivers. There were three lanes open throughout the project with one lane open into Washington, DC, one lane open into Virginia, and one lane reversed direction to accommodate rush hour traffic.
In order to speed construction, the NPS and FHWA worked with the project contractor to minimize the number of bridge closures, and also ensured that as much work as possible would get done during the small number of occasions when the bridge closed. Take a look at the news releases below to learn more about how we managed the construciton process.
The project team also worked to speed the project by using pre-cast concrete panels for the bridge deck. These were fabricated off-site and installed on the bridge at night. The project team installed more than 450 panels across the bridge.
This work culminated on December 4, 2020 when the Secretary of the Interior fully reopened the bridge to drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The work prepared the bridge for its second century of service as a memorial to the sacrifices of our nation's veterans and a reminder of the reconciliation between north and south after the Civil War.