- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Washington area drivers looking forward to one less choke point on the I-495 Beltway may be in for a rude surprise thanks to union-only work rules in Maryland that threaten to bolix-up the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

As reported last week by this newspaper, Maryland and Virginia are in danger of losing $1.3 billion in federal funds earmarked for the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge a 12-lane span designed to replace the existing bridge because of Maryland's Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, which require that union workers be used to build Maryland's share of the bridge. Virginia has a competitive bids system that, according to proponents, will help contain cost overruns.

The gist of the dispute between the two states is that Virginia believes it will end up having to pay for massive, union-caused cost overruns while Maryland claims the union-only rules will result in higher-quality work and greater efficiency. Maryland and Virginia must come to an agreement soon on the financing and specifically, how cost overruns will be absorbed before the monies approved by Congress can be spent.

No agreement, no bridge. It's just that simple.

Further delays before construction even begins are simply intolerable.

The existing Wilson Bridge is not only on the verge of being structurally unsound, it is also one of the worst choke points on the Capital Beltway because inbound and outbound traffic each loses a full lane as it converges on the bridge. With the region's population surging and the number of vehicles using the Beltway increasing by about 4 percent annually, the Beltway may soon become all-but-impassable during the morning and evening rush hours. Imagine the state of things in the year 2007 when the new, 12-lane Wilson Bridge is planned to be ready. Now imagine it's 2007 and there's no new Wilson Bridge because of union make-work rules and the intransigence of Democratic lawmakers.

Area residents will have Maryland and its make-work union rules to thank for this imbroglio. Apparently, it is more important to Democratic lawmakers such as Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening to insulate unions from cost-constraints than it is to address the desperate transportation situation in this region. Mr. Glendening has rejected appeals by Virginia to accept a compromise that would cap building costs and require the state to pay for any overruns but which nonetheless would leave Maryland free to cling to its PLAs and employ union-only labor. Sadly, this reasonable offer is not deemed acceptable by Mr. Glendening.

Outgoing Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore said last week that he will reject any deal that would saddle Virginia taxpayers with "unlimited additional costs that may occur under this union promise." Of Mr. Glendening's refusal to compromise, Mr. Gilmore added: "This continues to underscore the dramatic change in the working relationship between the two states."

So the ball is in Maryland's court. And the future of our regional transportation grid hangs in the balance.

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