- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

The Supreme Court yesterday refused to block construction of the new $2 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

In clearing one of the last remaining hurdles for construction of the 12-lane drawbridge over the Potomac River, the high court, without comment, rejected an appeal in which opponents claimed federal authorities wrongly failed to consider a 10-lane span instead.

The Alexandria, Va.-based Coalition for a Sensible Bridge and two historical organizations sued the federal government in an attempt to get a 10-lane bridge.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had reversed a lower court's ruling that would have stopped construction of the span.

"We are pleased that the [Supreme Court] agreed with Virginia and decided not to hear future litigation in the matter," Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley said. "This clears the last active legal hurdle regarding the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project."

A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening said the decision ensures the dredging of the Potomac that is to begin later this month will proceed. Because of environmental regulations, the dredging must be done between October and February.

Maryland and Virginia have agreed to spend $200 million each to replace the 39-year-old bridge that carries the Capital Beltway between Alexandria and Prince George's County, Md., and Congress has allocated $900 million. The bridge is projected to cost about $2 billion, and both states have asked Congress for the additional $600 million to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, a member of Virginia's General Assembly yesterday questioned why the state only has $35 million allocated for the new bridge in its six-year Transportation Development Plan, which includes an additional $3 billion in transportation projects.

"My concern is that they don't have any money identified. I don't know where the money is going to come from," said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., McLean Republican.

According to the two-volume document, $165 million is left in a "balance to complete" column funds the Virginia Department of Transportation still needs to find to fund the $200 million commitment it made to the bridge.

The co-chairman of the House of Delegate's Appropriations Committee said he can even envision the state having to borrow more money.

"We could use additional [federal help], but VDOT is going to have to come and ask us," Mr. Callahan said.

More than $514 million worth of Federal Highway Reimbursement Anticipation Notes (FRANS) are already being employed this year in an effort to speed up transportation projects.

The FRANs are a way to borrow against future revenues with the state paying off the notes over 10 years at a set interest rate.

"Because things are such in flux in Congress and there's a $600 million gap in spending left in the bridge we put up what we thought was appropriate," said Virginia Deputy Secretary of Transportation Arthur N. Bowen III.

"It was kind of like 'Show me the money.' "

Mr. Bowen said that the state expects to use a mixture of federal and state funds to make up the shortfall, and that the state is still committed to providing the $200 million it promised.

Using the FRANs to fund the state's share of the bridge's construction is also a remote possibility, he said.

During Maryland's last General Assembly session, $50 million was taken from the general fund and dedicated to the bridge project, spokesman Mike Morrill said. Maryland's transportation plan includes funding the remaining $150 million over the next three or four years, using money from the general fund.

"Ours is accounted for, and we hope to have it all paid for in cash so we don't have to take out any bonds," Mr. Morrill said. "We've worked hard to maintain our own fiscal house."

Arlington state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, a Democrat, said she is concerned that Virginia has not already found the money for the bridge.

"They aren't treating the financing of it seriously," Mrs. Whipple said. "This will draw on future projects."

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