- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

President Bush's executive order banning union-only labor agreements is proving to be a handy political cover for Maryland, which already has planned on pushing back the next phase of construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge until at least late March.
Contractors were to have turned in their bids for about $150 million worth of foundation work on the new 12-lane Potomac crossing Thursday after being pushed back from the original Feb. 8 due date because the Federal Highway Administration had not yet approved Maryland's plans to use Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on the bridge.
Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, said because of Mr. Bush's executive order, transportation officials are completely "rebidding" the foundation work project, which was supposed to have begun last month.
"We have to make very clear what the terms are," Mr. Morrill said. "The fastest way to do that now is to do a clean new bid."
Mr. Morrill said construction was "now in the third month of delay because of various political maneuverings," but that the overall construction of the bridge, which is supposed to be complete by 2006, shouldn't be affected.
Those "maneuverings," Mr. Morrill said, amounted to the "back and forth" of hearing whether or not Mr. Bush was going to issue an executive order banning the PLAs.
PLA opponents say such agreements drive up construction costs unnecessarily; supporters say PLAs ensure high-quality performance with few labor-related delays and disagreements.
Contractors now will turn in their bids for the project sometime in late March with foundation construction starting shortly thereafter.
Even before Mr. Bush's executive order, officials with the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration were again planning to delay construction on the bridge.
According to a document obtained by The Washington Times, Maryland was planning to push the due date back to March 8.
The document from MDOT is an addendum to an "Invitation for Bids" sheet and is dated Feb. 15 two days before Mr. Bush signed the executive order prohibiting PLAs from being attached to contracts involving federal dollars.
The federal government is contributing $1.5 billion to the estimated $2.2 billion project, and Virginia and Maryland each have agreed to chip in $200 million to pay for its interchanges.
In order to get the remaining $1.3 billion authorized by Congress $170 million was released last summer to pay for dredging of the river the states must agree to a financing plan to share cost overruns and establish ownership of the bridge, which is expected to be finished by 2006.
No such financing agreement has been reached because Maryland has insisted on using PLAs and wants Virginia to share in the inevitable cost overruns of constructing the bridge, which is Maryland's responsibility.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, has refused any deal that involves PLAs or would have Virginia sharing in Maryland's cost overruns.
Mr. Morrill said Maryland has more concerns about the long-term consequences of not having PLAs used in building the bridge.
"The bigger concern is that by removing our best tool for ensuring that we will not have a labor shortage or worker disruptions," Mr. Morrill said. "And that we could face the very real potential of either of those causing major disruptions to Washington metro traffic because of long-term delays in construction of the bridge."
Scott Brown, a spokesman for Associated Builders and Contractors a group representing the contracting industry that is critical of PLAs said Mr. Bush's order provides the project with a steady stream of work.
"Any claims about the Bush executive order slowing anything," Mr. Brown said, is "spin from the Maryland side."
He said if Maryland had not pushed for the PLAs, the construction of the bridge may not have been delayed at all.
"The job would have been done with an agreement with Maryland and Virginia working together from the outset," Mr. Brown said.
Instead, he said, the Glendening administration sought to "make this bridge a gift to political friends of organized labor."

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