- The Washington Times - Friday, August 17, 2001

The way things are going, the new Wilson Bridge may never get built. Wrangling over the project continues to threaten delays delays that mean it may be years before area drivers experience anything other than perpetual gridlock at the infamous Beltway bottleneck where the current bridge spans the Potomac, connecting Maryland with Virginia near Alexandria.
The ongoing dispute and attendant legal bickering can be laid squarely at the feet of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and his insistence that government contracts for work on the new bridge be based on union-friendly contracting rules known as Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs. PLAs require even non-union workers involved in a project to follow union rules regarding work hours, pay scales and grievances. These rules are often rigid and arbitrary and lead to delays and cost escalations. Right-to-work advocates oppose PLAs precisely because they hinder free competition and raise construction costs.
Maryland and Virginia, which is a right-to-work state and has no such union-only rules, have had to cooperate on the bridge venture, but it has been a tortuous process largely because of the inflexible attitude of Maryland's Democratic governor. Mr. Glendening and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore have been banging heads over the issue for some time, pushing back the actual start date for construction several times. As things stand, dredging of the river has only just begun and it will be some time before anything solid takes shape.
To speed the process along and also to show its own support for the right-to-work philosophy the Bush administration stepped into the fracas back in February, with President Bush issuing an executive order that would have barred the anti-competitive PLAs favored by Mr. Glendening and the labor unions that support him. But a federal district judge Emmet Sullivan had to stick his nose in the affair, and issued an injunction against the Bush executive order on Monday. In his opinion, the judge wrote that "An injunction would further the public interest because, absent an injunction, the state of Maryland is prohibited from proceeding with its portion of the Wilson Bridge construction in the manner it has determined will best serve the interests of its citizens." The Bush administration responded that, "We believe the executive order is appropriate and legal and that promoting efficiency and fairness in government contracting is the right thing to do," according to White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan. A hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 13 that will decide whether the injunction should be lifted or not.
Meanwhile, the bickering continues and with it the likelihood of future construction delays increases. The AFL-CIO, which filed the lawsuit seeking the injunction, intends to fight to the bitter end in defense of union protectionism. And it's a safe bet they'll have the full moral and official support of Mr. Glendening irrespective of the merits of union protectionism, or the desperate need to get this bridge built as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

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