- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2000

What's all this smiling and laughing about the Wilson Bridge? Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, Rep. Jim Moran, Virginia Democrat, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, and Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, were caught on camera congratulating each other, giving each other the "brother" handshake and high-fives, as if they were from the 'hood.

Don't expect District residents to celebrate the $1.5 billion U.S. Department of Transportation investment in the Wilson Bridge project. Aside from being a case study in the unequal application of federal environmental rules and a myopic approach to the region's increasing transportation dilemma encouraging rather than discouraging greater use of automobiles the 12-lane monstrosity serves as screaming testimony to the city's orphan status and political impotence.

City taxpayers will fork over $4 million to finance improvements to the I-295 interchange, which is one aspect of the overall Wilson Bridge expansion project. An additional 10,000 commuters are expected to arrive in the District each day once construction is completed. The local government also will pay costs associated with operating the drawbridge span. And while the feds are calling the $1.5 billion their money, District residents made a sizeable contribution to the surplus that is being raided for a questionable bridge project, which, eventually could mimic Massachusetts' "Big Dig," where hundreds of millions of dollars have been sunk into a still-incomplete construction project. All of this is being done without a vote by District elected officials.

No, this is not confetti-dropping time. Certainly there shouldn't be any joy at the D.C. Department of Transportation, where employees and contractors trying to play catch-up for decades of infrastructure neglect will be forced to assume even more work as the bridge spits thousands of additional trucks, cars, motorcycles and SUVs to city streets. (The feds think the transportation money they give to the District covers their costs for traveling city streets; but the contribution is chump change. It doesn't nearly cover the personnel, equipment or supplies devoted to federal roadways, especially when it snows.) And, environmentally conscious residents know more cars means more pollution and higher reports of respiratory illnesses, including asthma.

But here is the main rub: While the feds dump $1.5 billion into the hands of Maryland and Virginia lawmakers, they hassled District leaders about a request for $25 million to finance the construction of a new Metro station at New York and Florida avenues N.W., where officials are making an admirable attempt to lure companies to a newly created technology corridor, which could compete with other regional jurisdictions. Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, head of the appropriations subcommittee on the District, and others wanted the city to spend its own money for the project; the city government already had set aside $34 million, while local businesses agreed to put up another $25 million. The Senate approved the request; the House refused. The bill went to conference. Yesterday conferees approved the full request; the House and Senate still must vote on that version.

How did it happen that regional members could feast, while the District begged? The answer is voting representation. The city doesn't have it. District residents' federal and local tax dollars can be tapped for anything without the consent of their congressional representative, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. This is robbery, anyway you spell it. Maryland and Virginia representatives can decide to expand a bridge to an ungodly 12 lanes, knowing that it will invite additional motorists to get into their gas-guzzling automobiles, pollute the air and destroy city streets. But the District's delegate can't vote to stop it.

If Mrs. Norton had a vote, she could have extracted additional funds for the city; she could have traded with her colleagues blocking the project, temporarily, until regional congressional representatives agree to at least study the need for taxing income at its source. District officials continue to plead for a commuter tax or the ability to tax the income of workers who live in the suburbs; the move would help correct decades of structural imbalance in the city's revenue base borne by congressional representatives who highjack the city's employment opportunities and set onerous taxing limits. (Congress just this week, responding to a request from Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, put aside money for a study to erect a toll bridge between Maryland and Northern Virginia; a toll booth for the 14th Street bridge would be nice, thank you very much.) Some people who oppose the commuter tax for the District cite spending by workers. But there is no comparing the income generated by suburbanites employed in federal agencies and private companies in the District with what those workers may generate in sales taxes from McDonald's hamburgers even with fries and a large Coke.

Notwithstanding the tremendous success of the District's congressional representative, you can't participate in the horse-trading that characterizes the legislative process when you have no horse or when you're left out of the room. Consequently, District residents are made impotent, left begging for weeks for a measly $25 million for a Metro station.

Who, in his right mind, can even begin to call this system fair?



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