- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Washington has the highest percentage of obsolete bridges in the nation, according to a report released yesterday based on government statistics.
Although the bridges generally are safe, more than half are carrying a greater volume of traffic than they were designed to hold, which local transportation officials say will make driving in and out of the city even more difficult as they upgrade bridges.
"If you want something improved, you have to put up with the inconvenience that comes with improvement," said Raj Ravilla, the District's chief transportation engineer.
The study largely confirms a Feb. 20, 2001, report in The Washington Times that found widespread inadequacies with bridges locally and nationally.
The D.C. Division of Transportation is working with a $30 million budget this year to improve bridge capacity.
"We're getting more aggressive, at least in the past two years," Mr. Ravilla said.
Contractors assigned to do the repair and reconstruction will try to avoid disrupting traffic, said Bill Rice, D.C. transportation division spokesman.
"We adjust traffic as much as we can to try to minimize all the disruptions," he said. "But we still need to get the work done."
Fifty-six percent of the District's bridges are "functionally obsolete," according to The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington-based nonprofit group funded by insurance companies and the road-construction industry. Those bridges have inadequacies, such as excessive traffic or lanes that are too narrow.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said she plans to meet with Washington-area transportation officials to determine how to reduce traffic congestion by expanding bridge capacity.
"I am going to be doing a survey to find out more about what bridges we're talking about and what kind of priority this region wants to put into fixing these bridges," she said. Mrs. Norton, the District's nonvoting delegate in Congress, is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Of 243 Washington bridges listed by TRIP, 136 were obsolete. An example mentioned by TRIP was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
"The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which connects Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River, is functionally obsolete," the TRIP report says.
"Designed to carry 75,000 vehicles per day, the 40-year-old bridge now carries nearly 200,000 vehicles daily."
Washington's population growth causes many of the problems. The metropolitan area grew 16.6 percent between 1990 and 2000 to 4.9 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"This is a growing city," said Paul Haaland, TRIP spokesman. "They're trying to accommodate too much traffic for what they were originally designed to handle."
In some cases, the District's bridges are "serving traffic volumes two, three or five times greater than when they were originally designed," Mr. Haaland said.
Maryland and Virginia fared in the midrange among the 50 states for percentage of obsolete bridges. Twenty percent of Maryland's bridges and 18 percent of Virginia's spans are obsolete, the report says.
The Washington area ranked reasonably well for upkeep of bridges. Only 10 percent of the District's bridges are "structurally deficient," meaning major components that support the bridge need repair, according to TRIP. Examples would be crumbling decks or pylons.
Oklahoma was rated the worst in terms of upkeep, with 33 percent of its bridges rated as structurally deficient. Maryland ranked 11th best and Virginia 16th.
Florida ranked best in the nation, with just 3 percent of its bridges structurally deficient.
Bob Grow, transportation director for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, agrees the capacity of the District's bridges needs to be expanded, but says transportation officials should think of methods for reducing traffic congestion during the construction.
One method would be greater use of traffic lights synchronized from a central command center to speed the flow of traffic. Other methods include HOV lanes and incentives to use public transit and ride-sharing.
Without bridges that can handle more traffic, "It just slows down the journey to work, the delivery of goods and the economic vitality of the region," Mr. Grow said.
Major bridge upgrades under way in the District include:
Rhode Island Avenue and T Street over North Capitol Street.
23rd Street Bridge over Virginia Avenue.
Benning Road Bridge over the Anacostia River.
New York Avenue Bridge over South Dakota Avenue.
Benning Road and Southeast Expressway.

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