Monday was a beautiful day to spend along the Potomac River where the Arlington Memorial Bridge stands, its nine graceful arches belying the rot under the bridge.
“We just took a pretty sobering tour,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., calling it “the most vulnerable bridge in the whole federal system.”
Warner, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took a tour Monday of the underbelly of the bridge that was built to last a maximum of 75 years but now is in its 84th year and showing its age.
Despite millions of dollars spent to shore up the Memorial Bridge, it in fact needs a $250 million total makeover. It carries about 68,000 vehicles a day and could be at least partially shut down within five years if repairs aren’t made.
“If you think the challenges we’re going through with Metro right now are significant,” Warner said at a news conference held by the officials adjacent to the bridge, “you close down the Memorial Bridge for an extended period of time, and you’ve got total gridlock.”
Given that the bridge is an integral part of the nation’s capital, the Virginia suburbs and the federal security presence, it demands repair.
“There could be no more important project to devote federal dollars to than this,” Kaine said, waving his arms in frustration.
Mayor Bowser noted the District itself is growing rapidly, and the bridge is a vital part of the regional transportation network.
The bridge is owned by the National Park Service. As the Notebook has reported before, the Park Service does not have funds for the bridge or much of anything else. It has nearly $12 billion — billion — in unfunded capital needs throughout the nation.
Mayor Bowser has joined with Virginia officials to request a federal “fast lane” appropriation of money to get the repairs started by late next year. The city and Virginia would redirect some of their federal money to help fund the project. Warner said the region should hear within a few weeks whether the bridge repair will get the official go-ahead.
■ Beach Drive closures coming soon. We’ve also reported about the millions of vehicles that travel the 6.5 miles of Beach Drive through the heart of Rock Creek Park. It is another Park Service project. The two-lane stretch of roadway is worn out. It hasn’t been resurfaced since 1990 and is way overdue. Park Service officials told NBC4 they hope to start a resurfacing project by the end of the year and may have an announcement soon.
The plan with the Federal Highway Administration includes five phases, work that will require motorists, especially commuters, to make alternate travel arrangements.
■ Unity breakfast or food fight? We predict polite expressions of unity, although you know the media would love to see a biscuit or two tossed around.
We’re talking about the D.C. Democratic Party’s traditional unity breakfast that occurs after each primary election. The next one is on Thursday at 8 a.m. at the Busboys and Poets at 5th and K streets NW.
Mayor Bowser has confirmed she’ll be there. That’s important because three of the four Bowser candidates on the ballot lost their council races last week. Former Mayor Vincent Gray, who lost his re-election bid as mayor to Bowser in 2014, returned the favor by beating Bowser ally Yvette Alexander in Ward 7. Gray has confirmed he’ll be at the breakfast.
Gray told the Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour last week that he wasn’t elected to the council “to throw stones” at Bowser. He says he’ll work with the mayor and against her, based on his view of what her policies do for Ward 7. Anyone who knows Gray knows he harbors resentment over losing the mayor’s race, but anyone who knows Gray also knows that he will be measured in opposition. It wouldn’t do him any good to be an embittered council member.
Even close allies of Mayor Bowser say she took a tough hit in the primary election and will need to start working to mend fences and build support for her re-election effort that will begin by the summer of next year. Bowser told NBC4 last week that she will indeed be open to Gray and all the other council members as issues come and go.
One good way to start would be to make nice at the breakfast. And let’s hope the food is good. It usually is at Busboys. So that’s reason enough to get up early.
■ Graceful exit. At-large D.C. Council member Vincent Orange likely will show up Thursday. He lost his race to newcomer Robert White. Orange was graceful in congratulating White, and Orange said he felt like he had served the city well for 11 years.
Orange, Alexander and LaRuby May in Ward 8 (she lost to Trayon White) all will serve out their terms until Jan. 2, 2017. The winners in the primary still have to go through the formal general election in November. That’s plenty of time for the table of D.C. politics to be reset.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.