- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

Gov. James S. Gilmore III says Virginia unlike Maryland will not provide the federal government a "blank check" for the construction of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, but says a new proposal by Sen. John W. Warner could be the solution.

"I will not … provide a blank check to the federal government at the expense of Virginia taxpayers or at the expense of other high-priority road projects in the northern part of the state," he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Gilmore's comment came after Wednesday's announcement by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening that his state would cover up to 10 percent of any cost overruns on the stalled project.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, also ordered work on the replacement bridge to begin this fall, despite unresolved questions over financial responsibility for the project.

Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, has steadfastly maintained that Virginia would not cover an unlimited portion of the $2 billion bridge. But late Thursday night after issuing his earlier statement the governor said Mr. Warner's proposed funding agreement could address his concerns.

Mr. Warner's new funding plan was hammered out in meetings Thursday with Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, federal Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and other officials.

Under the proposal, the additional $600 million needed for the project could come from the federal government's general fund, Mr. Warner said. Cost overruns would be shared by both the states and federal government.

"It would be very promising," Mr. Gilmore told The Washington Times Thursday after hearing details of Mr. Warner's plan. "It meets the demands I've laid out."

According to the plan, 80 percent of the costs would come from each state's federal highway funds allocation and 20 percent would derive from the state's general funds. The key, Mr. Warner said, is that each state would have control over any cost increases, something Mr. Gilmore has said he would like to have included in any new ideas for funding the project.

Both governors and Congress will now must review the proposal.

Maryland and Virginia are partners in the project with the federal government, and each state had already committed to covering $200 million each of the final tab.

Congress has authorized $900 million for a new Interstate 495 drawbridge linking Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River, but both states have lobbied for the federal government to increase that contribution by at least $600 million.

The Virginia governor said he wants Congress to approve the additional $600 million and he wants state control of the project, including cost overruns.

Engineers have said the nearly 40-year-old bridge connecting the two states will no longer be able to handle heavy truck traffic by 2004, which is when the first phase of the new bridge is slated to be completed.

Virginia Rep. James P. Moran, an Alexandria Democrat, said Mr. Gilmore's hard-line stance on funding for the bridge could endanger the project.

"I think it's shortsighted and bullheaded. I think they should pony up their share," said Mr. Moran. "It nixes the deal because our colleagues will be able to say that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge isn't a high-enough priority. They'll use it as an excuse."

David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, said he believes everyone involved will eventually agree on a resolution.

"Governor Glendening's [statement] that Maryland will pay for part of the cost overruns is heartening news to members on the Hill that the additional $600 million in funding should go through," said Mr. Marin.

Mr. Glendening said that he had been consulting with Virginia officials and thought it was time to take the lead on what has become a political hot potato on both the Hill and in the two states.

"The rules of the game changed last month when Senator John Warner, a conservative Republican from Virginia, got the funding to start construction," said Mr. Glendening.

With Maryland agreeing to pay 10 percent of any cost overruns and start the project, the state is going along with what federal officials sought, he said. The governor's concession provides an 80-20 split-funding mechanism for cost increases, with the federal government paying 80 percent and Virginia and Maryland sharing the remaining 20 percent equally.

"At the moment, you may be talking about $100 million in overruns and that would be $10 million from us," said Mr. Glendening, noting he expects Virginia to contribute the extra 10 percent as well as more money from Congress.

"There is no way in the world Congress is going to see two-thirds of a bridge and leave it," he said.

Virginia Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Arthur N. Bowen III said more than anything else, officials in Virginia want to know where Mr. Glendening is getting more money for the project.

Mr. Glendening said Maryland's share of the bridge will be covered by the $250 million approved by the state legislature for the project. He also said there wouldn't be any need for tax increases to support additional funding of the project.

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