- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Members of a Senate and House conference committee agreed yesterday to use the general fund to provide an additional $600 million for the new $2 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The measure which is part of the Transportation Appropriations Bill is expected to be approved by the rest of the House as early as today. Republicans and Democrats predict the Senate also will approve the new funding after the House vote, and the White House has said President Clinton will sign the measure.

Congress already had set aside $900 million for the bridge as part of a 1998 transportation funding package. If the new funds are approved, the federal government's share of the project will total $1.5 billion.

But the project still faces financial hurdles: Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III has reiterated his opposition to any attempt to force Virginia into sharing cost overruns incurred by Maryland.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and one of the architects of the bipartisan deal, said the bulk of the federal funding, an estimated $1.3 billion cannot be touched, however, until Maryland and Virginia hammer out an agreement to share cost overruns.

Mr. Warner said one of the states must also take ownership of the now federally owned bridge and a memorandum of understanding must be agreed upon by both states as to the maintenance of the bridge.

"Uncle Sam, not being the contractor, should not assume cost overruns," Mr. Warner said.

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, said his state is ready and willing to take ownership of the bridge and the state will work with Virginia officials to come up with a remedy addressing cost overruns.

"Maryland is happy with the bill and happy with the language," Mr. Morrill said.

Both states have each agreed to provide $200 million to fund the bridge, but Virginia has allocated only $35 million in its six-year plan. Maryland has set aside $50 million and the remaining $150 million is included in its transportation-funding blueprint.

Mr. Gilmore said Virginia will pay only cost overruns for its share of the bridge.

Senate and House sources say Mr. Gilmore's position makes the funding agreement difficult because the deal worked out by Congress calls for both states to share responsibility for one another's cost overruns.

"The governor's willingness to cover cost overruns in Virginia certainly provides more flexibility in the final negotiations," said Wendy Frankson, a spokeswoman for Virginia Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, who also helped broker the new federal-funding agreement.

Mr. Gilmore's statement actually repeats the proposal he made several weeks ago, which Mr. Glendening's office referred to as "bogus."

The liability issue is another reason both Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Glendening have been at odds about Maryland using Project Labor Agreements for the construction of the bridge, which Mr. Gilmore opposes.

Traveling in South Africa on a trade mission, Mr. Glendening released a press statement that he is pleased with the conference report but he noted that work still needs to be done to get the money.

"Maryland will fully and enthusiastically support the bipartisan effort to ensure final congressional approval of this funding," Mr. Glendening said.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the issue of whether the bridge gets built is now in the hands of the states' governors.

"Gilmore and Glendening are going to have to resolve this," said Mr. Moran.

A senior level Republican staffer said "there are no more excuses" for the two governors.

Construction on the bridge begins later this month when Maryland starts to dredge part of the Potomac River. The first phase of the bridge is expected to be complete by 2004; the full project is to be done by 2007.

While the House Republican leadership expects the bill to sail through their chamber, a powerful Senate member said he feels a little bit uncomfortable taking money from the general fund to pay for this portion of federal funding.

Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Pete V. Dominici, a New Mexico Republican, repeatedly has said he is uneasy with additional funds streaming from the general fund.

"Senator Dominici supports construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge," said the senator's spokeswoman, Amy L. Call. "He remains opposed to funding the bridge using the general fund. We still think that it sets a bad precedent."

Miss Call added that in 1998, when Congress established a dedicated highway funding source known as TEA-21, the hope was that it would end the raiding of the general fund for highway projects.

"That was a long, hard battle to get that. It's a mistake to take transportation money from the general fund," Miss Call said.

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