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Local bridges tested for structural issues

Thursday - 8/9/2012, 3:53pm  ET

wilsonbridge375.jpg
The inspections follow a report from the Federal Highway Administration that warns about potentially contaminated grout used in the structures. (WTOP Photo)

Concern from local highway leaders

Adam Tuss, WTOP Sprawl and Crawl reporter

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Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Two area bridges - the massive Wilson Bridge and the Route 123 Bridge over the Occoquan River - are being checked for structural defects. The inspections follow a report from the Federal Highway Administration that warns about potentially contaminated grout used in the structures.

The issue with the grout has to do with a high level of chloride, which could speed up the rusting process. The grout was used in both bridges, but officials maintain they are safe.

"We haven't found anything yet. We don't anticipate finding anything now," says Maryland State Highway Administration spokesperson Dave Buck in reference to the Wilson Bridge. "This is something that the Federal Highway Administration is leading because it is a national situation."

In fact, a warning was issued to 21 states that as many as three dozen bridges could be affected across the country. The warning was first reported by the Baltimore Sun.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is now putting a plan together to inspect the Route 123 Bridge.

"We see this as a long term issue and not an immediate safety issue," says Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson Joan Morris. "The bridge is absolutely safe."

The FHWA says in a statement that any possible corrosion resulting from this batch of defective grout does not pose immediate safety concerns and any issues would be discovered over time through routine bridge inspections.

In the case of the Wilson Bridge, there are many other redundant safety features built in to the bridge, Buck says.

"That basically means, if something were to ever happen, the redundancy allows the bridge to still continue to operate safely," he says.

The grout, known as 300 PT grout, was produced from November 2002 until March 2010 at the Sika plant in Marion, Ohio.

The FHWA says chloride levels in the grout ranged from being less than the specified limit of 0.08 percent to as much as 400 percent above that limit.

Sika has since stopped the production of that grout.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)