- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 23, 2000

Virginia should help pay for cost overruns resulting from Maryland's share of construction of the $2.2 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project, a top Maryland official said.

"We maintain that both states benefit from the bridge, as does the federal government, and cost overruns should be shared appropriately," said Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Virginia and Maryland each have committed $200 million and Congress $1.5 billion to the project and are responsible for building their interchanges onto the new 12-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

But Maryland, whose officials announced Monday that they will use union-supported Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) during construction, also is responsible for building the middle part of the span, known officially as the Potomac River Bridge.

Federal funds are to be used on the middle span, and members of Congress have said the federal government will provide no more funds for the project. Money for cost overruns will have to come from the states.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, repeatedly has said his state will pay for cost overruns for its part of the construction and Maryland should pay for its own cost overruns. He also has said PLAs are anti-competitive and will increase construction costs.

Shirley J. Ybarra, Virginia's transportation secretary, echoed Mr. Gilmore's sentiments. "We would certainly expect Maryland to accept their overruns on their contracts," she said.

Miss Ybarra said Maryland's decision to negotiate PLAs with unions "doesn't help" the states' efforts to secure a financing agreement for Congress' $1.5 billion contribution.

"We have to have a signed financing agreement, and once we have that signed, we have access to the money," she said.

"We think when they see the final PLA, they will have to rethink their rhetoric," Mr. Morrill said of Virginia officials' opposition to the union agreements.

Mr. Glendening, a longtime supporter of union causes, has said PLAs will ensure the construction is done correctly and in a timely manner.

Mr. Morrill said Virginia officials do not have a good track record of keeping construction costs in check, referring to cost overruns in building the Springfield interchange.

"Their claim has been that the PLA is going to jack up labor costs," he said. "[But] if there are cost overruns and a PLA has been in place, it is not likely those overruns will be because of labor costs."

Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, applauded Mr. Glendening's decision to use PLAs Monday, adding that he is sure the governor will back other proposals by union negotiators.

Jim Ryan, a spokesman for Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., an opponent of PLAs, said the union-backed agreements could stifle progress on the bridge.

"It's going to further exacerbate disputes between the two states and the federal government, and it's going to make cooperation more difficult," Mr. Ryan said.

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