- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2000

Bipartisanship and old-fashioned "horse trading" secured the nearly $2 billion for replacing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and now nearly every politician in the region is taking credit for it.

Congress in 1998 offered $900 million for replacing the six-lane, federally owned bridge with a 12-lane span, and Virginia and Maryland each offered $200 million leaving a shortfall of about $600 million.

The states argued that the federal government should provide the extra funding, members of Congress argued about whether that was possible, and the White House mostly stayed out of the argument.

On Friday, Congress approved a $58 billion transportation bill that includes the additional $600 million for the Wilson Bridge project. Construction is expected to begin this month and to last until 2007.

"This was a project that was so vital to our nation's capital," said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Warner teamed with Reps. Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf, both Virginia Republicans, to push for additional congressional funding for the bridge project.

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, and Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, each asked the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee last fall to provide the money from the highway transportation trust fund.

"That just wasn't going to fly with me," said Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican and committee chairman. "We were very blunt to the governors."

Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, pressed President Clinton to allow use of the federal government's general fund to provide the extra money a solution that seemed improbable to many for a local highway project.

"I think the principal credit should go to John Warner for pushing it through on the Senate side and Chuck Robb working with the White House," said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.

Mr. Smith said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, "worked to get people not to make deals" to oppose using the general fund for the bridge, while the administration lobbied for support of the plan.

Mr. Davis and others promised members of the House's Western caucus that using the general fund would be a "one-time shot," not an entitlement, to ease their concerns about environmental regulations.

But Reps. Bud Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Tom Petri, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on ground transportation, wanted something for their districts for their support of the project.

Mr. Shuster's district received $50 million for a transportation project, and Mr. Petri's district received $575,000 to take down an abandoned railroad bridge in Oshkosh.

"This was the price," a top House aide said. "This was game day."

Mr. Davis said securing funds for the bridge replacement was an effort in which everyone including Maryland's delegation was vital.

Former Virginia Gov. George F. Allen, a Republican vying for Mr. Robb's Senate seat, said credit goes to Mr. Wolf, Mr. Davis, Mr. Warner and even some to Mr. Moran downplaying his efforts in getting White House support.

"I guarantee you that President Clinton's determinations on this have no influence on the likes of Frank Wolf and [Senate Appropriations Chairman] Ted Stevens and John Warner," Mr. Allen said.

"I don't think it will be a major issue, but you always have questions raised about what have you done for me lately," Mr. Robb said. "The White House wanted to support me."

Mr. Glendening's spokesman, Mike Morrill, said if Maryland had not begun work on the bridge, there may have been less of a desire to push forward with getting the funding.

"Probably the most important thing we did was that earlier this year we started to go ahead and do construction," Mr. Morrill said. "It made it clear we couldn't hold up for the extra funding."

Mr. Smith said it now is up to the states to pay cost overruns and work out their differences. "There just isn't going to be any more [federal] money for the bridge."

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide