ANNAPOLIS – Drivers who cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge could pay a toll if the federally owned span is turned over to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The Senate Finance Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would create the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Tunnel Compact, a partnership among the three jurisdictions to govern the replacement of the 30-year-old crossing.
Hoping for federal funding, Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead said bridge construction could cost nearly $1 billion.
If the bridge is converted to a toll facility, Winstead said study would be needed to determine the impact on the Cabin John Bridge on Interstate 495 and Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge on Route 301. Both the other bridges would likely get more traffic.
The Wilson Bridge is the only federally-owned section of the east coast interstate highway. Its drawbridge is controlled by the District of Columbia.
Winstead said the bridge was built to accommodate 70,000 cars a day. But that average has more than doubled – to 160,000 cars a day.
“This bridge will fall down in seven years. We’ve got a problem,” Winstead said.
The bill is sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, and Sen. Gloria Lawlah, D-Prince George’s. The bridge connects their county to Virginia, over the Potomac River.
Virginia has passed similar legislation, but Maryland and the District of Columbia have not. All three jurisdictions and the federal government would have to approve some sort of measure to establish the authority.
In 1994, the federal Interstate Transportation Study Commission reported that an interstate authority would be the best way to fix the bridge.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Commission Chairman John F. Herrity, former Fairfax County Board chairman, said the authority would require cooperation.
Winstead and Herrity were concerned with the District of Columbia’s role in the proposed authority.
“This is a structure that impacts the nation’s capital,” Winstead said. But the district has no operational interests in the bridge and cannot afford to make any funding commitments, he added.
Winstead said he would propose amendments to guard Maryland’s interests, including guaranteed veto power for all partners and a share of excess revenues. -30-