- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

Gridlock scored another victory with the announcement last week by Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia that he was asking the Federal Highway Administration to cancel a study of possible locations for a new bridge over the Potomac upstream from the existing and over-taxed American Legion Bridge near McLean, Va. Mr. Wolf, once an advocate of a second span across the river that would connect outlying Maryland counties with the "tech corridor" of Northern Virginia near Leesburg and Dulles Airport, had become dismayed by the wave of "disinformation" spread by anti-bridge activists, which had resulted in many homeowners becoming concerned about the future of their neighborhoods and the value of their homes which many feared would plummet in value once it became common knowledge that a major bridge span and new highway would be built in their proverbial back yard. "I am sympathetic to homeowners in both Virginia and Maryland who in recent weeks have grown concerned about the FHA study as numerous 'proposed routes have begun to appear on flyers at public hearings and on the Internet," he said. "While none of these 'proposed routes were ever recommended by the Federal Highway Administration, I understand the anxiety they have created," he added.

Mr. Wolf also said that he had changed his mind about the soundness of building a new bridge based on concerns about environmental impact, the threat to existing properties along the proposed bridge sites as well as the possibility that any new bridge would only exacerbate existing traffic problems as traffic volumes inevitably increased. "I have come to the conclusion," Mr. Wolf said last week, "that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to build a new bridge without negatively impacting neighborhoods or cutting through parkland." Mr. Wolf said FHA officials had advised him that any new bridge would entail the destruction of existing homes, parkland and agricultural land especially on the more rural and undeveloped Maryland side of the river.

On a practical level, the political and legal obstacles facing any new bridge were and remain formidable. Maryland´s legislators and most of the citizens who live in the areas potentially affected (which are largely rural/farmland) vehemently oppose any new bridge and have vowed to use any and all means at their disposal to thwart the bridge project, should it be revived at some point in the future. Solutions Not Sprawl, a Maryland-based anti-growth activist group, is among the fiercest opponents and argues that studies such as the ones done by the Texas Transportation Institute have demonstrated that building massive new infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges only "bring new traffic problems, rather than relieve existing ones."

That may be so and Mr. Wolf may be correct to voice his concern about the environmental and other impacts of a new Potomac crossing. But something must be done. Whether it´s a new bridge across the Potomac or the expansion of existing roadways, such as I-495 and I-66 inside the Beltway, the region´s existing transportation infrastructure is clearly inadequate. Indeed, it has been stretched to the breaking point, with the very same TTI study cited by Solutions Not Sprawl revealing the alarming statistic that Washington-area residents waste almost 50 hours each year just sitting in traffic jams at a cost of $600-$1,000 annually in lost productivity.

"I believe everyone in our region working together must reach a consensus as to what can be done to solve our congestion problems, including having the commitment to make the improvements and coming up with a way to pay for them," Mr. Wolf said in the wake of his announcement. "Until this is done, conditions will only worsen." Truer words were never spoken.

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