WASHINGTON – A regional transportation board voted Wednesday to support two replacement spans for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, making the project eligible for federal funds.
A panel of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments approved recommendations to build two, six-lane drawbridges to replace the aging bridge.
The only argument against moving forward came from Lois Walker, an Alexandria City Council member. She proposed deferring the board’s decision until there was a clearer picture of how much money Congress will provide. Her motion lost on a voice vote.
Wednesday’s approval by the Transportation Planning Board now moves the project into the hands of the Federal Highway Administration and Congress.
The FHA must publish a report examining the environmental impact of the new spans and circulate it for public comment. Congress must approve funds for the project.
The spans are expected to cost around $1.5 billion, with the federal government paying at least $400 million, and additional funds raised through $1 tolls.
Congress is expected to act on a funding bill before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, said David Gendell, a regional administrator for the FHA and chairman of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee, which had approved the two-span concept in September.
The new bridges are expected to take two or three years to design and then four or five years to build.
Construction is expected to start in 1999, and the bridges could be open to traffic by 2004.
Replacement spans are necessary because the current structure, opened in 1961 and designed to support about 75,000 vehicles daily, is being used by an estimated 170,000 vehicles daily.
“The bridge is reaching an age where it won’t be economical to keep it going,” Gendell said.
The proposed bridges would have a total of 10 lanes designated for conventional traffic and two lanes for either rail service or high-occupancy-vehicle lanes.
The spans are projected to carry 300,000 vehicles a day by the year 2020, and are expected to last 80 to 100 years, said Jana Lynott, director of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Study and Design Center.
The proposed bridges will likely be built several hundred feet south of the existing bridge, which will be torn down once the new spans are completed.
Improvements and repairs on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge are expected to keep it operating until the new bridges are completed in 2004.
Every two years, there is a complete inspection of the bridge, including its underwater structure. The next comprehensive examination will be done this summer, Gendell said.
There are also periodic inspections of specific parts of the bridge, such as the piers and the drawbridge. The next scheduled repairs, expected to be completed within a year, will be the resurfacing of the drawbridge and its joints. This is expected to cost $9 million to $10 million. -30-