- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge project is two-thirds completed and on budget, and transportation officials are aiming to finish the span’s second half in five years.

“It’s a testament to excellent contractors reaching their milestones. It’s an outgrowth of good management and oversight by the Maryland and Virginia” departments of transportation, project spokesman John Undeland said yesterday.

The $2.4 billion bridge project, which includes interchange enhancements and other road improvements, is scheduled to be completed by 2011, Mr. Undeland said.

Next year, transportation officials will award the construction contract for the second half of the bridge and will open several new ramps.

Crews are continuing the demolition of the old bridge, and two detonations are scheduled for Jan. 12 and 22, both at 2:30 a.m., to demolish the last of old bridge’s piers. The explosions will occur mostly below the water line on the Potomac River to cause minimal disruption to nearby residents, officials said.

Construction is scheduled to begin on the second span in 2008.

“What we’re building is more than a replacement bridge. It’s 7.5 miles of the Beltway that is being completely upgraded,” Mr. Undeland said. “We feel very confident that the mechanisms and people are in place to keep the project on schedule.”

Project managers from Maryland’s and Virginia’s transportation agencies thanked motorists for being patient during the construction.

“We appreciate their continued patience as we finish the remaining third of the job,” said Ronaldo Nicholson of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Transportation officials dynamited the old Wilson Bridge in August, after the first half of the new bridge was opened in June.

The old bridge opened in 1961 and was designed to handle about 75,000 vehicles a day.

Officials decided to build the new bridge when traffic increased to 200,000 vehicles a day, straining the old bridge.

The new bridge will have two spans of six lanes each — doubling the capacity of the current six-lane bridge.

“Even with half the bridge in place, there’s already a remarkable difference,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“Traffic’s moving much better, even though the new span is only running about the same number of lanes,” Mr. Anderson said. “The new one has shoulders on both sides. The old bridge had no shoulders, so if there was a breakdown or a crash, then it only had three lanes.”

The old bridge also created “one of the nation’s worst bottlenecks,” Mr. Anderson said, because it squeezed eight lanes of Capital Beltway traffic into six lanes.

Mr. Undeland said $1.6 billion of the project’s cost is being paid for by federal funds. Maryland and Virginia are paying for the remaining $800 million.

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