- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Virginia could be prevented from building its share of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement project thanks to a little noticed law passed this winter in the state's General Assembly and signed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III that forbids Virginia from issuing any contracts if Maryland attaches any pro-union project labor agreements to its contracts.
The law originated as a bill sponsored by Delegate James K. "Jay" O'Brien, Fairfax Republican, and signed in March by Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. It states "no Virginia revenues shall be allocated, released, dedicated, or spent, in whole or in part, for any purpose whatsoever in connection with repairs to and/or replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River if or so long as such repair or replacement project is subject to a project labor agreement."
Maryland, led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, wanted the PLAs used on all the contracts it issued, while pressing for Virginia to share in any potential cost overruns. Mr. Gilmore balked, saying the PLAs could result in higher construction costs. He said he refused to have Virginia taxpayers "saddled" with any cost increases because of the PLAs.
In February, President Bush issued an executive order banning PLAs from being used wherever federal dollars were used. And Virginia, Maryland, and the Federal Highway Works Administration reached a final financing agreement last month.
But a federal judge overruled Mr. Bush's order and granted a temporary injunction that left open the door for Maryland to begin using PLAs on its share of the $2.4 billion project.
Now Mr. O'Brien's law seems to have more relevance because if a group or person challenged the law, it could be argued that Virginia cannot move forward with any construction because Maryland plans on using PLAs and the law specifically outlaws Virginia from spending money on the Wilson Bridge project if it has PLAs included.
But Mr. O'Brien and Gilmore administration officials discount that theory.
Mr. O'Brien said the law was meant to give the Gilmore administration "political ammunition" in negotiating a financing agreement with Maryland and the federal government, but he said it in no way prohibits Virginia from issuing any contracts since PLAs are not attached to them.
"If [Maryland] pursues, on their portion, PLAs, that's fine," Mr. O'Brien said. "Virginia is only concerned with the land construction on our side."
Gilmore spokesman Reed Boat-right said the financing agreement also specifically spells out that Virginia money will not go to any contracts Maryland controls, which may or not have PLAs. Mr. Boat-right added that the Gilmore administration interprets the law to mean that Virginia cannot put money into contracts that have PLAs and Virginia has no such contracts.
"We are protected from cost increases," Mr. Boatright said.
As part of the financing agreement, Maryland is controlling the issuance of contracts on the twin 12-lane bridge that will be placed next to the 40-year-old federal bridge that crosses the Potomac River. Each state has promised to put up more than $200 million each for the project, which is expected to be complete by 2011, with the bridge superstructure finished by 2006.
The federal government has also earmarked more than $1.5 billion for the project in exchange for Maryland and Virginia sharing ownership and maintenance costs of the bridge.
Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar said her state has been in negotiation with unions over the PLAs and waiting for the highway administration's final approval, which will probably come after a hearing Thursday on Mr. Bush's order.


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