- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

From missing pieces of concrete and rusting exteriors to peeling paint and sagging tiles, Metrorail bridges are showing their age.

Metro’s first bridge was built 28 years ago, and since then 76 have been added. That includes five bridges to go with three new stations opening before the end of the year.

Metro bridges are structurally sound, inspectors say, but upkeep — as in other parts of the aging, cash-strapped system — could be better.

“We have deferred maintenance,” said Larry Lee, structural maintenance assistant superintendent. “And the aesthetics seem to deteriorate a little bit because the money is not there.”

Metro has budgeted $3.2 million for bridge maintenance in fiscal 2005. Eighteen repair projects are scheduled through June. But other projects such as painting, sealing and repairing cracked and chipped concrete have been, or are in danger of being delayed.

“Fix what you have to,” is how Mr. Lee described the new reality.

Of the system’s 17 painted bridges, six are scheduled to be repainted this year. One of them is the Vienna pedestrian bridge, which has hung over Interstate 66 since 1986. Painting has been delayed two years, Mr. Lee said.

Light fixtures and damaged ceiling tiles are drooping on the inside. Paint is peeling on the outside, which left the bridge vulnerable to road salt spray and other elements and caused it to rust.

Water has seeped into areas that need to be resealed, which has caused further rusting. If ignored for several years, rust can compromise the stability of the structure, civil engineers say.

On the bridge that carries the Yellow Line to the Eisenhower Avenue station in Alexandria, there is a crack, and small pieces of concrete have chipped away. Rust is the culprit, Mr. Lee said. It expands and causes concrete to break up.

“We may get to it next month or next year,” he said.

The agency’s bridge inspectors say it’s a common sight in a system made mostly of concrete.

“You see falling concrete everywhere,” said Rick Graver, who leads a team that inspects the bridges annually. “Nine times out of 10, it’s just cosmetic. There’s no structural damage.”

The budget crunch and aging of the system also has strained maintenance personnel. Mr. Lee said that if he could increase his staff by about 25 percent, he could keep up with periodic maintenance, concrete sealing and other repairs and in the long run save on costly repairs.

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