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Dangerous Gaps Remain Between I-395 Lanes

by ARLnow.com | March 7, 2012 at 4:29 pm | 2,428 views | 25 Comments

(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) Dangerous gaps still remain between the I-395 bridges that run over Four Mile Run, near Shirlington.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials say they’re waiting for the results of a state police investigation into the death of Alexandria paramedic Joshua Weissman before deciding what to do about the gaps. As of today the investigation is “still ongoing,” according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

Weissman fell through one of the gaps while trying to reach a burning vehicle in the HOV lanes of I-395 on Feb. 8. He fell some 20 to 30 feet into the creek and was knocked unconscious, authorities said at the time. Weissman later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.

From below, the two gaps are clearly visible between the mainline of northbound I-395, an HOV ramp, and the HOV lanes themselves. Beneath the gaps are the Four Mile Run bike trail, a rocky berm littered with debris from the homeless individuals who sleep under the bike trail, and a shallow section of Four Mile Run with a jagged concrete structure in the middle.

The gaps pose the biggest danger to police and firefighters, who often will reach an incident in the HOV lanes via the mainline of I-395. If the incident happens to be on the bridge, as it was in the case of the Feb. 8 car fire, those public safety personnel will have to either hurdle over the gap or walk around it, in order to reach the scene and come to the aid of the victims.

One police official tells ARLnow.com said the gaps are “really not a problem in daylight” but can be especially dangerous at night. There are other gaps between lanes along I-395, including in the area of S. Joyce Street in Pentagon City, the official said, adding that he’s personally aware of at least two close calls involving officers nearly falling through the gaps.

Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz says that placing a grate between the spans may help eliminate the danger.

“It seemed to me that something like a grating… might be a cheap and adequate solution to that problem,” Schwartz said. He added, though, that it “makes sense” for state police to conclude the investigation before ”rushing out to do something that in the end might not be a complete solution.”

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  • Flo

    They might want to consider construction just a few designated crossing points, like little bridges above the concrete parapets, with proper rails and what not.

    Putting gratings there would mean all kinds of trash would get stuck and become a maintenance problem. Plus people could hide there and mess with cars that drove by. And by people, I mean terrorists.

    • Josh S

      Or trolls. But I’m sure the Three Billy Goats Gruff could handle them…..

  • Thes

    Nice reporting here. You may save a life. I hope we keep hearing from VDOT officials about what they plan to do.

  • Kony Thornheiser

    Does the gap serve some structural purpose? Or is it there so that if one part of the bridge fails, the other could be used for a detour?

    • Swag

      Bridges vibrate as cars pass over them. Keeping them separate isolates the vibrations and (probably) helps the bridges last longer. Any loose-fitting barrier (like the grate mentioned above) wouldn’t cause any problems.

      • Civil in Arl

        Huh?

        More like there was an original bridge there (as seen from old substructure in picture 3) and the contractor built a new bridge to the left to facilitate traffic. Then demoed the existing bridge and built the second span. The gap is more about constructability i.e. it’s easier to build two independent bridges than one.

        • Arlington, Northside

          I think Civil in Arl has it. The center lanes are the HOV lanes added years after the main lanes. They are essentially four seperate roads there.

  • Arlingtron

    This has been a terrible tragedy.

    Unfortunately it is not possible to safeguard every facility for possible emergency responses. What may help is training. Last year a Maryland police officer was severely injured when he leapt out of the way of a swerving vehicle at a traffic stop or disabled vehicle. He fell 20 feet over a rail to a road below. He survived with fractured legs.

    In addition it may be good to require any first responder on roadways to wear safety gear including reflective vests (Va. State Police dark gray uniforms are not that visible at any time of day) , helmets, etc. Training can help responders identify safe escape routes and hazardous facilities.

    • JJ

      They are required to wear safety vests and equipment.

  • Swag

    Pretty sure every double span in the country has these gaps. One freak accident doesn’t necessitate anything beyond the most simple of fixes.

    • chipotle_addict

      I agree. It’s a shame that someone got hurt, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to waste a ton of money fixing a largely non-existent problem.

  • other side of the river

    Thanks for going out and taking the pictures. That really helps to illustrate the issue.

    • brian

      where are the pictures of “homeless people living under the bike path?”

      I don’t believe it since I don’t see it.

      • speonjosh

        Yeah, I think this is somewhat presumptuous. Granted, it’s been over a year since the last time I was on this stretch of the trail, but I never remember seeing homeless camps here before. And how could they ever be “under the bike trail” since the trail goes right along Four Mile Run?

        That stretch does remind me a lot of Half Life, though….greatest video game of all time….

        • ShirliMan

          I jog along there. There are sections of the trail that are raised, and people do hang out under it. I see all the trash, and I have seen clothes laid out on rocks to dry in the sun.

          • ShirliMan

            You can see in pic 2 where the trail is raised a little. It gets higher closer to Glebe Road.

        • bobco85

          +1000

          I never played the original (just the Half Life 2 games), but I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks about it when passing through there!

  • Teyo

    The accident was tragic, but perhaps instead of doing unnecessary bridge work, they could just let emergency response personnel know about these locations. Training that emphasizes walking around instead of jumping over (at the Four Mile Run location, it’s probably about 100 feet to walk around) might be useful as well. Otherwise we’ll be talking about putting grates in the gap between I-395 South and the HOV lanes over the Potomac soon.

    • bobco85

      I completely agree.

      On an emotional level, I want to make sure that this tragedy never happens again and can understand a push for the metal grating. I can also understand the urgency of a firefighter seeing a car on fire and wanting to jump across to save time (and possibly lives).

      On a rational level, I see that the safest way to cross to the other bridge is by walking around. A grating would be completely unnecessary. In retrospect, my focus would be on communication as to which bridge/side the rescue team should be on when arriving at the scene.

  • chipotle_addict

    In other news, there are dangerous areas in the middle of each lane of i395 as well. Interstates are not designed for pedestrian safety. It’s a terrible tragedy that someone got hurt, but the interstates are, as a rule, unsafe for pedestrians, and anyone getting out of a car and trying to cross over one needs to realize the risks.

    • brian

      true. but it does look safe and is misleading where it is at.

    • drax

      True, but sometimes people are forced to get out of their cars for whatever reason.

  • Frank Rizzo

    Hardly looks safe at all. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to climb over a concrete wall and guard railing on a bridge, assume you are entering an area less safe then where you are standing on the bridge.

    Not even sure what you mean by misleading.

  • Wait

    No one is talking about the “gaps” on the other edges of the bridges.. It’s a bridge! It’s sad this happened but every bridge has edges that lead to a long fall, that’s why it’s a bridge!

  • Linda

    The bike path under this gap is already dark. The lights are usually off or broken. If they close the gap, it will be darker under there. This will attract more crime to the bike path in that area.

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