Infrastructure used to be a word invoked only by engineers and policy wonks but, since the collapse of the highway bridge in Minnesota a few years ago, there is a growing awareness of infrastructure needs by the general public.
In Virginia, where the state is responsible for most transportation infrastructure, many bridges of varying sizes are in need of repair or replacement, roadways are deteriorating, and curb and culvert damage from snowplows becomes more apparent every winter season. Our underground infrastructure, primarily the responsibility of local governments and utilities, also needs periodic attention to ensure free flow of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.
One example of an infrastructure emergency happened with little warning last week. An alert Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) employee noticed some erosion at the edge of Columbia Pike and the footbridge across Holmes Run, near Lake Barcroft Dam. VDOT is the state agency that maintains and controls roads in Fairfax County. A closer inspection determined that recent rains had washed away soil from under the roadway, creating a potential cave-in or sinkhole. The rush hour closing of one lane of traffic created havoc for morning commuters as emergency crews shored up the area temporarily until a longer term project can be scheduled. The close attention of a VDOT employee, however, kept the problem from becoming a real disaster, another example of the new mantra “if you see something, say something.”
Another infrastructure improvement planned within the next week or so, weather permitting, is the repaving of Sleepy Hollow Road, from Columbia Pike to Leesburg Pike. According to VDOT, contractors will begin milling and paving the week of October 3. The extensive rains of the past month delayed the project, but with dry weather, it should be started and completed soon, much to the delight of the motoring public. Of course, the front end alignment specialists may not be so happy, but thousands of motorists will have a smoother ride.
In Fairfax County, the underground infrastructure is examined and maintained on a regular basis. Modern techniques use steam or hot water to “cure” space age fabric that, when inserted into existing pipes, extends their life for decades and negates the need to dig up the pipes for repair or replacement. Robotic television cameras can be inserted into the pipes to determine the level of repair needed, and those same cameras can demonstrate what the pipe looks like after it has been relined. Following the flash floods earlier this month, several sewer pipes were exposed due to erosion. The pipes are sound, but some earth around them was washed away, especially where the pipes cross stream valleys. Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services staff documented those areas that need quick action. Work to protect the sewer lines and stabilize stream banks adjacent to the exposed sewer pipes already is underway.
While some repairs can be scheduled, others need to be done without prior notice. The public’s patience during those unexpected repairs is appreciated by the workers who do their best to keep us safe.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]