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DCIst: Arlington Memorial Bridge Reopens All Six Lanes To Traffic, After Two Years Of Construction

Originally Posted At dcist

It’s official: After two years of construction, all six lanes of traffic reopened Friday on Arlington Memorial Bridge. Half of them were closed for construction starting in October 2018.

U.S. Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt hosted a ceremony to mark the completion of the work on Friday. The project was a $227 million collaboration between the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration to rehabilitate the bridge and replace its drawbridge portion with fixed steel girders, which NPS says will cut down on maintenance and extend the longevity of the repairs.

Workers shored up the bridge’s concrete approach spans and replaced the concrete deck. They also took steps to preserve the bridge’s historic character, removing, restoring and re-installing the stone curbs and street lights along the bridge, according to the Park Service.

The bridge is reopening slightly ahead of schedule. It was originally expected to resume normal operations in early 2021. Some minor construction and landscaping work will continue in the future, per The Washington Post.

The undertaking was “one of the largest transportation projects in National Park Service history,” according to the project’s website, and it “will give new life to our capital’s ceremonial entrance while respecting its character, history, and national significance.”

Prior to the repairs, the bridge was beginning to corrode, and was held up by area officials as an example of “failed leadership,” as Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) put it in 2015. The National Park Service warned that in the absence of funding for repairs, the bridge would be unsafe and need to close in 2021.

With the rehabilitation complete, Beyer, fellow Northern Virginia congressional leaders and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton are hailing the project as a big win for government investment in infrastructure.

“Memorial Bridge is now fully operational, and stands not only as a historic and functional monument, but also as a symbol of the kind of progress that is possible on rebuilding key transportation infrastructure through smart government investment,” the group said in a statement.

The bridge first opened to the public in 1932 and spans the Potomac River, connecting the area near Arlington Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial. The span is meant to symbolize the reunification of North and South following the Civil War, according to the Park Service. It’s also the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

Traffic may be about to get better on and around the bridge, but some historians contend that a major reason for the original completion of the project was a traffic jam. While the federal government purchased land at the site and began mulling the idea of a bridge there as far back as the 1830s, the project remained on the government’s back burner until President Warren G. Harding got stuck in “an unprecedented traffic jam” on his way to a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921, according to a 1988 historical study of the bridge from Park Service historian Elizabeth Nolin. After Harding’s 20-minute trip stretched to an 90 minutes — a relatable experience for many current D.C. commuters — the president became personally invested in moving the project forward.

This story was updated to include comment from local congressional leaders.