- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

Virginia and Maryland are in danger of losing $1.3 billion in federal funds for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge because of Virginia's dispute with Maryland over its union-only labor deals for the construction project, sources close to the issue said.
The states, which have pledged $200 million each for the six-year project, must seal a financing deal detailing how they will absorb cost overruns in order to get the money Congress has approved for the $2.2 billion, 12-lane span.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday expressed frustration over Maryland's Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), requiring labor union workers to build its share of the replacement bridge.
"It is also unfortunate that this agreement has been entered into without the participation or consultation with Virginia," said Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. "This continues to underscore the dramatic change in the working relationship between the two states."
PLA opponents say such agreements drive up construction costs unnecessarily; supporters say PLAs ensure high-quality performance with few labor-related delays and disagreements.
Officials from the states have been working with the U.S. Department of Transportation to hammer out an agreement.
Negotiations between the states have stalled over Maryland's insistence on the PLAs and demands that Virginia help pay for all cost overruns, the sources said.
Maryland, under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has rejected a Virginia offer that would cap the total cost of building the bridge and require Maryland to pay for any cost overruns, the sources added.
"If they go ahead and use the PLAs and it drives the cost up, they would just have to go ahead and pay for it," one source said, adding the PLAs "make it much more difficult for them to agree to [Virginia's] cap of the bridge costs."
The same source said Virginia's offer would keep intact Mr. Gilmore's proposal that his state pay only for cost overruns resulting from its share of the construction, primarily the interchanges in Alexandria.
"Virginia would still not accept cost overruns," the source said.
Mr. Gilmore yesterday reiterated in a statement that he will reject any deal that would saddle Virginia taxpayers with "unlimited additional costs that may occur under this union promise."
Jack Calahan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said his state is committed to using the PLAs agreed upon Friday.
"Maryland believes having PLAs is the best way to manage this extraordinary project over the lifetime of the project," Mr. Calahan said. "Maryland believes this is the right thing to do."
He said Maryland's position that Virginia share in cost overruns has not changed, noting the two sides are continuing to meet to work out their differences.
The federal government is providing $1.5 billion for the project, most of it to build the bridge. Congress approved $900 million as part of a 1998 transportation funding bill and another $600 million last year.
Last summer, Congress approved $170 million of its total contribution to be used to start dredging and foundation work on the bridge to keep the project on schedule.
David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said not another dollar of federal money will be released until the states secure a financing agreement.
"This was an intentional strategy, of course, meant to try to block a PLA" and make the states hold the line on cost overruns, Mr. Marin said. "The fight is now theirs."
Mr. Davis and other members of Congress will try to pressure Maryland to reject the PLAs, contending they are "bad politics and bad policy" and represent "a slap in the face to Virginia," Mr. Marin added.
Neither the GOP-controlled Congress nor the incoming Bush administration, which must approve the financing agreement, is keen on the labor union agreements, said U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., Maryland Republican.
"I know this is not going to be popular with a lot of decision-makers in Congress," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Governor Gilmore made it very clear from the beginning that PLAs were a non-starter from the beginning… . Mr. Glendening can certainly not claim ignorance."


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