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Arlington Memorial Bridge

Arlington Memorial Bridge

Medium Span

The Structural Rehabilitation of Washington, D.C.’s 90-year-old Arlington Memorial Bridge was one of the largest transportation projects in National Park Service (NPS) history and gave new life to the capital’s ceremonial entrance while respecting its character, history, and national significance.

A critical link in the region’s transportation network used daily by over 65,000 motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, the bridge is positioned over the Potomac River on a line of sight between Arlington House, the former home of Robert. E. Lee, located in Arlington National Cemetery, and the Lincoln Memorial, the landmark structure is both a cultural monument to the sacrifices and valor of our nation’s military personnel and symbolic of the reunification of the North and South following the Civil War.

The bridge’s original design comprises ten reinforced concrete arch spans and a center double-leaf steel bascule span. The Chicago-style bascule span’s novel design hid the equipment, machinery, and counterweights all below deck, with each leaf concealed by ornamental pressed-metal fascia panels that were carefully designed to blend the span into the overall structure’s aesthetic. The bascule span was in active operation from 1932 to 1961 and was permanently closed in the fixed position in 1965 because of a lack of marine traffic. From 2018 to 2020, the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration completely rehabilitated the bridge, extending its service life by 75 years. The project included replacing the historic bridge’s bascule span, in which the design team paid homage to the original structure in such a way that the new span resembles the original. First established on the renderings during the environmental assessment, the new design was chosen to balance historic preservation goals with constructability, maintenance, and costs.

NPS and FHWA required a design that would protect and enhance the bridge’s historic appearance across all facets of the project. Replacing the bascule span was not necessary because other fixed bridges below the Arlington Memorial Bridge prevent tall marine traffic from traveling up the Potomac River. NPS instead worked with engineers and architects to design a newfixed steel superstructure with an under-truss structure that looked similar to the former drawbridge. The new aesthetic features fixed steel plate girders in the main span enhanced by architectural steel components to resemble the bracing in the original bascule design. In addition to the new superstructure, the original look of the span was further achieved by preserving and reusing the bridge’s original pressed metal fascia panels.

The new superstructure design uses variable-depth steel plate girders, and the 216-ftlong main span’s 12 girder lines feature a curve fabricated into the middle of the web and bottom flange, which fits into the arch shape of the span. The main span steel girders are connected on each end to 31-ft, 11¼-in. rolled beam (W27×84) back spans that traverse over the previous counterweight area. The main span girders were fabricated as three pieces each, then field assembled on a barge at a nearby staging area prior to erection.

The superstructure combines the use of AASHTO M270 (ASTM A709) Grade 50 and AASHTO M270 (ASTM A709) Grade HPS70W. HPS70W was used in the bottom flange (3 in. by 28 in.) in the middle field section due to the reduced depth at the main span. The steel is protected by a three-coat paint system, the color of which was chosen to closely match the bridge’s granite stone. After completing structural steel erection, the architectural under-story truss was pinned to the bottom flange of the girders. Then, the restored metal fascia panels were attached to the new superstructure’s facia girders using structural steel members with high-strength bolts.

The variable depth under-story truss was used to provide an aesthetic that resembled the original shape of the bascule truss-girders. The new steel superstructure, in combination with the reinstallation of the metal fascia panels, pays homage to the original aesthetic and allows the span to blend in with the adjacent concrete arch spans.

Erection work for the bascule replacement was performed from barges in the PotomacRiver, and a key challenge was maintaining three lanes of traffic on half of the bridge during construction. Since the original bascule span design consisted of edge truss girders and transverse floor beams, the floor beams required support at the center cut line. This was accomplished using an in-water shoring system in combination with a support system under the counterweights.

This support system consisted of interlocked barges, supported by a perimeter of pipe piles, with a series of shore towers supporting each floor beam. The pipe piles were fitted with a series of high-strength threaded rods/rock anchors and jacks that lifted the barges up above the waterline so that the load from the bascule span was transferred from the shore towers to the pipe piles. The temporary shoring remained in place for approximately 12 months during construction, supporting both the weight of the existing bascule steel and live traffic.

Project Team

  • Steel Team

    • Fabricator: High Steel Structures, Lancaster, Pa. *AISC CERTIFIED*

    • Detailer: DBM Vircon Services, Vancouver, Canada *AISC CERTIFIED*

    • Bender-Roller: Greiner Industries, Inc., Mount Joy, Pa. *AISC CERTIFIED*

    • Bearing Manufacturer: Scougal Rubber, McCarran, Nev. *AISC CERTIFIED*

  • Owner: National Park Service

  • Primary Engineering/Construction Contract Administration

    • U.S. Department of Transportation

    • Federal Highway Administration

  • General Contractor: Kiewit

  • Structural Engineer: AECOM

  • Bridge Engineering Consultant: Hardesty and Hanover (bascule span)


Year Awarded:


Year Completed:



Washington, D.C.

Award Class:

Medium Span

Award Type:

Merit Award


Structure Type:

Plate Girder

Coating System:


Span Length (ft):

Main spans: 31 ft, 11.25 in., 216 ft, 31 ft, 11.25 in.

Structure Length (ft):


Average Deck Width (ft):


Steel Weight/Deck Area (lb/ft²):

Amount of Steel (tons):


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