ARTBA President and CEO Dave Bauer wrote the op-ed, below, which was published in the April 21 issue of The Washington Post. Above, inside the “corroded carcass” of the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Photo: Federal Highway Administration.
By David C. Bauer
If placed end to end, the length of structurally deficient bridges in the D.C. area would stretch nearly four miles and cover the area of 18 football fields, according to a new analysis of federal government data we released this month. Nationally, there are more than 47,000 such structures. In the DMV, 145 structurally deficient bridges need urgent repair, with reconstruction work needed on 2,000 structures, accounting for half of all the bridges in the area. This work would cost an estimated $3.6 billion.
Sadly, this is no joke and speaks to a much larger problem.
The Post reported last month that the D.C. government has received more than 7,000 pothole complaints from January to mid-March; that’s almost four times more complaints than at this point in 2017. The Post and its reporters have also done yeoman’s work highlighting the sorry state of our other major commuter corridors.
A massive, 10-foot-deep sinkhole on forced the closure of the George Washington Parkway on March 22, resulting in traffic gridlock. Anyone regularly driving north or south between Spout Run and the Capital Beltway knows well the horrible pavement conditions. The road and the water infrastructure beneath are crumbling on the 1930s-era road. At night, it’s a white-knuckle experience with reduced visibility and no lighting. At the same time, the National Park Service reduced speed limits to 40 mph on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway because of similarly hazardous conditions.
The agency has plans to rehabilitate both roads but speaks in terms of many years, not sooner. Public safety demands action now.
And let’s not forget the nearly 90-year-old structurally deficient Arlington Memorial Bridge, which is also owned by the Park Service. Thankfully, it is getting a long-overdue rehabilitation but only after last-minute emergency action from Congress and a ban on heavy vehicles from crossing it.
While it’s easy to blame the Park Service, the reality is the agency is operating on a beer budget. The estimated cost to modernize the Memorial Bridge is about $250 million, or close to the agency’s annual road improvement budget for the entire country.
The real story here is the abject failure over many years by elected officials, particularly at the federal level, to make the investments necessary to keep our infrastructure in a state of good repair.
The American people are clamoring for action. A January 2019 Rasmussen Reports survey found that almost 90 percent of likely voters believe “the Democratic leadership . . . and President Trump should work together during 2019 to pass legislation that would improve . . . infrastructure.”
Since the 2016 election, Trump and bipartisan congressional leaders have regularly cited upgrading the nation’s infrastructure as an area for common ground. After more than a decade of federal actions dominated by preserving the status quo, this new dialogue is welcome and sadly overdue. Every day spent talking about the need to fix infrastructure, however, is a day in which the problem gets worse.
So, what’s to be done?
The most pressing priority: Fix the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the source, on average, of more than 50 percent of all highway and bridge capital investments made annually by state transportation departments. The fund is in a world of financial hurt.
Without new revenue, starting in 2021, states would face a 40 percent cut in investment. All revenue options, including a Post-endorsed increase in the federal gasoline tax for the first time since 1993, should be on the table.
It is time for our elected officials to stop talking and start solving problems.