It's been nearly two years since chunks of concrete first fell from the bridge that carries Glebe Road over Arlington Boulevard in Arlington County. Now the bridge has been deemed "structurally deficient," engineer-speak for cracked, crumbling and in need of replacement. "That bridge would not meet today's design standards," said Dennis Leach, Arlington County director of transportation. "You can go out to that bridge and you will see concrete falling off the bridge. There's exposed rebar now."
The Glebe Road overpass is just one of dozens of roads and bridges in the Washington area that transportation officials said should be repaired or replaced but haven't been because there's just not enough money.
Local roads have deteriorated to the point that a 2009 analysis by TRIP, a transportation research group in the District, rated 61 percent of them "poor" or "mediocre," its lowest ratings.
Source: County and state transportation departments
|Area's worst bridges|
|» Courthouse Road Interchange|
|» Glebe Road at Arlington Boulevard|
|» Washington Boulevard at Columbia Pike|
|» Lorton Road at Giles Run|
|» Chainbridge Road at Leesburg Pike|
|» Old Chesterbrook Road at Pimmit Run|
|» Seminary Road over Interstate 495|
|» MD 193 over I-495|
|» MD 650 over Sligo Creek|
|» Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn|
|» South Four Mile Run in Shirlington|
|» 15th Street at Pentagon City|
|» Interstate 66 between Beltway and Route 50|
|» Georgia Avenue between Glenallan Avenue and MD 185|
|» Old Georgetown Road between Wisconsin Avenue and North Brook Lane|
|» University Boulevard West between Arcola Avenue and U.S. 29|
The region's bridges also score failing grades. About 26 percent of bridges in Maryland and Virginia are either "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete," another way of saying they're too old and don't meet current standards, according to a
Washington Examiner analysis of the latest Federal Highway Administration data. About 61 percent of the District's bridges fall into those categories.
Short on cash, however, local and state officials often resort to setting weight limits and vehicle restrictions on the bridges to extend their life. In some cases, it takes years between the time officials identify a road or bridge in need of repairs and when the repairs are actually made.
A bridge on Washington Boulevard over Columbia Pike, rated one the worst in Arlington, needed extensive repairs for over two decades, according to Virginia Department of Transportation bridge engineer Nick Roper, though the poor rating doesn't mean it's an immediate threat.
"It sounds horrible, and it's not good, but it doesn't mean that it's ready to fail," Roper said.
Agencies like the Maryland State Highway Administration are trying to catch up, but competition for scarce dollars blunt their efforts.
In Montgomery County, Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard deteriorated to the point that they are now top priorities for repaving this summer, administration spokesman David Buck said.
But that may not happen, he said, because staff is still reviewing other needs and how far the administration's budget will stretch.
Another problem is that as one project is fixed, other problems inevitably arise. Maryland fixed 19 bridges in 2009, only to have nine others declared "structurally deficient" that same year.
To keep up with road maintenance, states and communities are using money they had been saving to build new roads. Virginia shifted more than $500 million over to maintenance in 2010 and could transfer as much as $650 million by 2015, leaving little for construction, according to the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance,
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed borrowing and spending billions on nearly 900 road projects statewide, but even that wouldn't cover all transportation needs, according to alliance President Bob Chase.
"To some degree this is catchup, and I think the governor would acknowledge that," Chase said. "At the same time, the way we are paying for these projects with future funds really makes the need for new, longer-term reliable funding more important than ever."