- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The Federal Highway Administration yesterday denied Maryland's request to require the use of union-only project labor agreements (PLAs) on the $2.4 billion project to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Among other things, highway administration officials said Maryland has not "proven that the proposed PLA would provide the benefit claimed in Maryland's submissions."
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, said in a statement he was "disappointed and deeply concerned with the decision," adding that the highway administration has put Maryland in a "difficult position."
Maryland, which owns the Potomac River up to the Virginia shoreline, is responsible for issuing most of the bridge's construction contracts. Mr. Glendening has supported PLAs, saying they ensure quality.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III's main concern is "the project not be slowed down," said Gilmore spokeswoman Lila White. Mr. Gilmore has long opposed union-only labor agreements, saying they stifle competition and raise construction costs.
Because the new bridge's $450 million-$500 million superstructure is to be funded with federal dollars, Maryland had to submit its request to require a PLA for the highway administration's approval.
"Maryland's pursuit of this PLA has been aimed at pleasing labor unions rather than doing what's best for workers, taxpayers and commuters," said Scott Brown, spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors, a Rosslyn group representing construction companies. "Hopefully, Maryland is going to stop seeking this PLA and move forward with full and open competition."
Edward C. Sullivan, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, called the highway administration's decision an "end-around" a Nov. 7 decision by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that struck down an executive order by President Bush that had banned PLAs in all projects receiving federal funding.
"We're looking at our legal and political options," Mr. Sullivan said in a statement. "This fight won't end yet."
PLAs are designed to give labor unions a greater role in hiring and establishing work rules on construction projects. In return, the unions agree not to strike during a project.
Maryland and Virginia, along with the federal government, are sharing costs on the project. Maryland has wanted to use a PLA, which guarantees union hiring halls play a prominent role in determining who works on the project.
Each state has promised to put up more than $200 million for the 12-lane bridge linking Prince George's County and Alexandria along Interstate 95 over the Potomac River.
The project is expected to be completed by 2011, with the bridge superstructure finished by 2006.

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