- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced yesterday it has given final approval to an agreement between Maryland and Virginia that will allow more than $1.3 billion in federal money to be released for the construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement.
"This agreement has been a long time in coming and represents our ongoing attack on highway congestion," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said in an interview.
Under the agreement, Virginia will split maintenance costs with Maryland, which has taken the lead on the project in part because it owns the Potomac River under a Colonial charter. Maryland agreed to Virginia's request to include money in the project's budget for contingencies, higher construction costs and inflation.
The agreement also lets Maryland advertise next week on a $450 million contract to begin building the 12-lane structure.
The estimated $2.4 billion project remains roughly $400 million short, but state and federal officials said yesterday that shortfall can be made up with the states' federal highway-fund money.
Mr. Mineta said getting the bridge project fully under way and kept on schedule was of national importance.
"The Wilson Bridge is not only a vital [bridge] in the capital region, it has an impact on the traffic up along the East Coast," Mr. Mineta said. "To me, transportation is not a public-works project, it's a vital engine of our economy."
The new twin-span bridge will be built next to the current 40-year-old bridge, part of the Capital Beltway linking Alexandria in Virginia and Oxon Hill in Prince George's County.
The project is expected to be completed by 2011, when all of the outlying interchanges in Virginia and Maryland are complete. The first of the bridges is scheduled to be finished by 2004; the other, in 2006.
A new bridge has been in the works for decades, as the region's traffic volume surpassed the bridge's capacity. The Wilson Bridge was designed to accommodate about 70,000 cars daily; now, more than 190,000 cross it every day.
The replacement design was devised in the late 1990s, and in 1998, Congress appropriated $900 million for it. It agreed to chip in another $600 million last fall after intense lobbying by Maryland and Virginia's congressional delegations, and the two states each promised $200 million for the project.
A disagreement between Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening over the use of union-only project labor agreements threatened to delay construction. The issue was settled last winter when President Bush declared such labor agreements could not be used on federally funded projects.
Already, about $170 million in federal funds have been used to dredge the Potomac River to address environmental concerns, and Maryland is also now doing foundation and piling work using its own funds.
A joint statement was sent from Mr. Glendening's press office declaring that the financing and ownership agreement reflected a model for multistate cooperation.
"With the financial agreement in place, we can continue to move forward with the real task at hand — building a new bridge that will ease the biggest bottleneck in the greater Washington Metropolitan region," said Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, in the statement.
"Our partnership has moved forward an equitable and reasoned financing plan," said Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. "This is another milestone in the continuing efforts by Virginia and Maryland to reconstruct the Woodrow Wilson Bridge for the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of commuters and travelers who cross the aging structure every day."
Virginia Secretary Shirley J. Ybarra said the two states worked out an agreement everyone could live with.
"We have had to overcome a lot," Miss Ybarra said of the negotiations and funding. "It's been one form of battle one way or another."

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