- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Prince George’s County will not pursue an effort to keep a commemorative medallion off the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Two bronze medallions bearing the profile of the former president for whom the span is named have adorned the existing drawbridge since it opened in 1956.

Betty Hager Francis, who resigned last month as the county’s director of public works and transportation, said earlier this year that one of the medallions should not be on the Maryland side of the new bridge when it opens because Wilson was a “throwback” on racial issues.

But Prince George’s spokesman James P. Keary says the county has taken “no official position” on the placement of the medallions.

“The design of the bridge is decided by the states of Maryland and Virginia, thus the placement of the medallions is a state decision,” he said.

Mr. Keary said Mrs. Francis’ resignation had “nothing to do with” her public statements in February about the plaque. Mrs. Francis could not be reached for comment.

David Buck, a Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman, said the agency has no plans to exclude the medallion from the new bridge.

“Ultimately, it’s our decision where the medallions go,” he said. “But it’s a Prince George’s County issue. We won’t do anything unless they ask.”

Meanwhile, Virginia transportation officials say both medallions can go on the Virginia side of the bridge if Prince George’s County officials pursue Mrs. Francis’ campaign.

“We’ve got a verbal agreement with Maryland to put both medallions on the Virginia side if that’s what [Prince George’s County] wants,” said Joan Morris, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Prince George’s County Councilman Peter A. Shapiro says the medallion should remain.

“As a policy decision, if [state officials] think the medallion is inappropriate, they might as well rename the whole bridge,” he said. “I have a feeling that this is not going to be a front-burner issue.”

The $2.43 billion project to replace the bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway from Alexandria to Oxon Hill, began in October 2000. The first of the two replacement spans is expected to open in early 2006, the second by mid-2008.

John Undeland, a spokesman for the project, said construction is on schedule and several million dollars below budget because contract bids have come in under estimate.

“Prices have gone down on this project substantially,” he said. “We’ve been able to accelerate a lot of the work.”

The existing bridge is among the nation’s top 12 traffic bottlenecks, says AAA, an advocacy group for motorists.

“It’s a six-lane bridge on an eight-lane beltway, and that makes it one of the nation’s most regular bottlenecks,” said Lon Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “As the sun rises and as the sun sets, there are backups on the Wilson Bridge during rush hour.”

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