FOX 5 got an up close look at the emergency conditions that led to lane closures and weight restrictions on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The National Park Service gave us special permission for this tour of the most damaged section of the bridge, and from what we saw, the bridge is literally rotting from the inside out.
You start off down a rusty spiral staircase and it does not take long to see the problem.
The 80-year-old interior support beams of the bridge are rusted that they are barely beams at all. There are also massive amounts of concrete damage. So much so that one of them we saw is rusted clean through, and we were even able to pick up piles of crumbled concrete and rust. One of the pylons we saw inside also had quite a bit of holes in it.
Two of the six lanes on the bridge are closed and any vehicles over ten tons are banned. Virginia Congressman Don Beyer said it could impact traffic for years.
"It's going to out a lot more stress on Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, on the 14th Street Bridge, and the backup just getting across [the Memorial Bridge]," said Beyer. "It's not a good thing."
Emergency repairs will take six months and cost $3 million.
"Because we're worried about its safety," said National Park Service director John Jarvis.
He said to really fix the bridge -- replacing the rusted section and redecking the surface -- could cost $250 million.
"If we could shut it down for a year, then it would be great, but you're not going to be able to do that," said Jarvis.
In the long term, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx describes the project as critical. We asked him if this the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad bridges here and around the country.
"I think it is the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Officials insist the Arlington Memorial Bridge is safe. But without immediate work, it is not clear how long they can make claim.
The National Park Service said they are working with both Metro and tour companies to make sure they are rerouting buses away from this bridge. That could change in a week when Jarvis says he expects police to start enforcing the ban -- both for the safety of the bridge and the passengers who use it.