Virginia and Maryland are nearing terms for a financial agreement that would make it possible to get $1.3 billion in federal funds needed to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, after Virginias governor offered to share ownership, operation and maintenance costs, once the bridge is completed in 2006.
The deal could be signed within a week by representatives of the Maryland and Virginia transportation departments, officials from both states said. The agreement would then be forwarded to the Federal Highway Administration, which already has given conditional approval.
The agreed-upon proposal ends months of gridlock between Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, and Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, over the federally imposed financing agreement.
Congress, in authorizing $1.5 billion for the estimated $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion federal bridge project, required both states to hash out an agreement that includes how they would handle cost increases and ownership of the bridge. The states also were asked to provide accurate cost estimates for construction of the Potomac River span.
“This will help get the bridge built on time,” Mr. Gilmore said on WTOP-AM 1500 radios “Ask the Governor” program, where he made his announcement. “[The proposal] should now put the last brick in the wall and finish this and allow us to go forward.”
Both states have pledged $200 million to the project, but Virginia has budgeted only $35 million of its share. Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles D. “Chip” Nottingham said the money Virginia will need to fund its construction projects, such as the bridges interchanges in Alexandria, will be available.
The agreement also shows that Mr. Gilmores tough line against union-only labor deals, or Project Labor Agreements, which Mr. Glendening insisted on, paid off, especially since the Bush administration banned such agreements this past winter.
In a letter sent to Mr. Glendening last week, Mr. Gilmore proposed that:
* Maryland and Virginia share ownership of the bridge — 50-50 — including any cost increases in maintenance. Earlier Maryland had wanted to have sole ownership of the bridge.
* Each state would add an extra 10 percent for any cost increases incurred during the project, which could add $250 million to the cost of the bridge project, using the high estimate. Older proposals had factored in 5 percent in “contingencies and cost adjustments.”
* Each state would pay for any cost increases or overruns on the projects that it controls.
* An inflation factor be included in any cost estimates, so as to give higher, realistic estimates.
“The time has come, in highway construction, to play square,” Mr. Gilmore said, adding that by the end of the week Virginia should have revised cost estimates.
Currently, Virginia pays Maryland for the maintenance and operation of four bridges in the area the two states are affected by. Virginia shares equally in the cost of three of the smaller bridges, but reimburses Maryland 21 percent of the cost for maintaining and operating the American Legion Bridge, while Maryland pays 79 percent.
Valerie Edgar, a spokeswoman with the Maryland State Highway Administration, said estimates of more than $1 billion for work her state is responsible for doing shouldnt change much. She noted that Maryland has consistently updated cost estimates as the project has progressed.
As part of Mr. Gilmores proposal and an earlier agreed-to plan, $1.13 billion will go toward building the two six-lane bridge spans and other parts of the bridge, with the remaining $496 million split so that Virginia receives 57 percent, or about $283 million, and Maryland gets 43 percent, or $213 million — all for projects where the contracts will be controlled by each state and not shared.
Already, more than $200 million of the $1.5 billion has been spent on dredging and foundation work for the bridge. That money was appropriated last summer in order to keep the bridge projects schedule on track.
On the Maryland side of the river, Mr. Glendening hailed his fellow governors proposal as another “major milestone” in replacing the bridge and providing “relief to the 190,000 commuters who sit in traffic every day.”
“Working together, we can now move toward the completion of this project in a timely manner and with a minimum disruption to the lives of the people who use the bridge,” Mr. Glendening said.
Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the two states have been working for months to hammer out a proposal that would satisfy each entity involved, including the federal government.
“It is great news that Virginia has confirmed in writing what we have discussed for several weeks,” Mr. Porcari said.
Virginia officials said the FHA had seen an early proposal both sides agreed to, but balked because it included outdated estimates for inflation and construction costs, many dating back to June 2000.
Providing accurate forecasts for major “western wonder” projects such as the Wilson bridge need to be part and parcel of transportation policy planning, Mr. Gilmore said.
“It is just not fair, or even smart, to tell the people of Northern Virginia, or Maryland, or anyplace else that its going to be ‘X amount of dollars when we all know darn, good and well, that a project is going to have some inflationary costs,” Mr. Gilmore said.