- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III ordered the Commonwealth Transportation Board yesterday to allocate $400,000 for a study of the proposed Techway, a new Potomac River crossing that would connect Maryland and Virginia and reduce the time commuters spend on clogged roads.

The funds would be the state's first investment in the bridge and road, which Maryland officials oppose.

The 17-member transportation board, appointed by the governor to set transportation policy and administer funds for transportation projects, is expected to approve the funding request at its meeting in Lexington today.

While no bridge site has been selected, supporters in the Virginia technology industry envision one to connect Route 7 near Reston at the Fairfax County Parkway with Interstate 270 in Montgomery County.

Tech companies in both states led by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the High Technology Council of Maryland embrace the project because it would reduce gridlock on Interstate 270, Interstate 495, Route 7 and the Dulles Toll Road.

The $400,000 that Mr. Gilmore requested would be included in the $10 billion, six-year Virginia Transportation Development Plan.

Mr. Gilmore's request follows the announcement by Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, last week that $2 million of the $58 billion federal transportation bill already approved will be used to study the Techway.

"We want to continue the momentum Congressman Wolf has started," said Dan Shoemaker, assistant secretary for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Mr. Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, asked Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater for the Federal Highway Administration to complete the study within a year and investigate issues including where to build the bridge, how much it would cost and how to finance the project.

The study also will explore whether mass transit could complement a bridge connecting the two states north of the American Legion Bridge, whether the connector would be a toll road and whether it would be closed to trucks.

The $400,000 from Virginia places more pressure on Maryland officials to consider supporting the Techway, Mr. Wolf said.

"The reality is people favor the bridge. I would hope the state of Maryland would look at this and see they can't have their people on [Interstate] 270 for an hour every day to work," he said.

A poll by AAA Mid-Atlantic released in February found 75 percent of those surveyed support construction of the Techway. The connector could reduce commutes from Montgomery County to Northern Virginia from 28 miles to 16 miles and cut driving time by at least 20 minutes, according to the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

"I call on Maryland leaders to work with their neighbor and the federal government to study this potentially critical project," Mr. Gilmore said.

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening remains opposed to new roads over the Potomac River and wants to concentrate joint transportation efforts with Virginia on building a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and improving the two-lane U.S. Route 15 bridge at Point of Rocks, Md., in Frederick County.

"The issue with any new crossing that is not at Point of Rocks and goes into western Montgomery County is that Montgomery County has designated that land as an agricultural preserve," said Jack Cahalan, Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman.

But there is no additional pressure on Maryland to support the project simply because Virginia has forked over money, Mr. Cahalan said.

"We're OK with studying it," he said.

Maryland officials aren't considering a measure to help fund the study of the Techway's feasibility.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council in July submitted a request with the Commonwealth Transportation Board asking that $500,000 be spent to fund Techway environmental and engineering studies.

Mr. Gilmore and the Virginia transportation department have discussed money for a Techway study for the past three weeks. The governor decided to make the request now because the Commonwealth Transportation Board will complete negotiations on the Transportation Development Plan today.

The plan goes into effect Nov. 1.

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