- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2000

Virginia has not set aside the money for most of its $200 million share of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement and must use federal loans to pay for even a small portion of the project, transportation department records show.

"We are not going to schedule or show the money in the plan [until] we know how much we need in particular years," said Secretary of Transportation Shirley J. Ybarra.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) released a revised six-year plan in September showing the $165 million in a "balance to complete" section of the two-volume document, meaning no money has been appropriated for it.

Miss Ybarra said Virginia needs to take out $35 million in Federal Highway Reimbursement Anticipation Notes (FRANs), which have been approved by the General Assembly, because the state doesn't have the money now to fund even a small part of its share of the $2.2 billion project.

Using the FRANs, which are being paid back at 4.85 percent interest over 10 years, still leaves the state $165 million short and tacks on $1.69 million in debt the state has to pay.

Like other projects funded by FRANs, Miss Ybarra said, the borrowed money is meant to speed up construction projects by tapping the state's share of federal money available a few years from now.

"We are utilizing it as a cash-flow tool," Miss Ybarra said.

She said the state will ultimately save money because by getting the funding now, it will avoid any cost increases.

"When you can deliver the project sooner, at that interest rate you are saving money versus the inflation we've seen," Miss Ybarra said.

The General Assembly approved using the $35 million in FRANs for the bridge as part of the Virginia Transportation Act of 2000, but by relying on FRANs, other transportation projects will not get funded, said state Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat.

"If you don't have the money to pay the projects back, other projects do slide," Mrs. Byrne said. "You are borrowing against your future."

Mrs. Byrne said she has concerns that Virginia has to borrow money to pay for a project officials knew long ago would have to be funded.

"You are basically mortgaging federal money," Mrs. Byrne said, adding that she and other legislators aren't sure of where they will find money to pay for the remaining $165 million.

"I think we are going to have to use any means possible," she said. "We're looking at an empty cookie jar."

Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, Fairfax Republican and co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he thinks other projects will get cut to pay for the state's share of the bridge funding.

"My concern is that we don't have the money committed to the bridge," Mr. Callahan said. "And we don't even have our $200 million obligated. I am very skeptical of where this money is going to come from."

Both Virginia and Maryland have agreed to contribute $200 million to the project, with the federal government providing $1.5 billion.

Maryland plans to pay its share by taking $200 million from the state's general-fund surpluses, Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson said.

This year's surplus was $1 billion, and next year's is expected to top $400 million. Roughly $50 million was already earmarked for the project during the last legislative session.

"[Democratic Gov. Parris N.] Glendening remains committed to ensuring the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is built," Ms. Henson said.

Mr. Glendening decided in October 1999 to dip into the general fund's surplus because the project is so important to the region, she said.

Virginia doesn't fund capital projects the same way as Maryland, Miss Ybarra said, adding that the state will pay for its remaining $165 million share using a mix of federal and state dollars. She suggested the state would get more money from the 2004 reauthorization of a federal highway and mass-transit funding bill.

Reauthorization is done every six years, and states receive a substantial amount of federal funding for long-term projects in these bills. In 1998, the reauthorization bill provided $900 million in federal funding for the Wilson Bridge replacement.

The Wilson Bridge, built in 1961, carries Capital Beltway traffic over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia south of Alexandria.

The existing bridge was designed to accommodate about 70,000 vehicles daily. Now, more than 190,000 vehicles cross it every day.

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