State and congressional officials vowed Friday to get the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement quickly back on track to avoid a “traffic nightmare,” after a federal judge ordered further study of the project.
Gov. Parris Glendening said he was baffled by U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin’s ruling this week requiring more environmental impact studies on the plan to replace the aging bridge that carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River.
“Any delay in reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge could be a disaster — even if we just have to reduce the weight load” until a replacement is built, said Glendening.
Sporkin’s ruling could make it necessary to ban heavy trucks from the crumbling six-lane drawbridge, which engineers have said will only be safe for another five years at current traffic levels.
If trucks are rerouted, they would have to go through a “roller coaster” in Montgomery County or through the heart of Washington, D.C. — impossible conditions for both the jurisdictions and the truckers, Glendening said.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, said his office is looking into ways to expedite the review process, “possibly declaring a transportation emergency,” or appealing the decision.
“The problem we have is we’re running out of time,” Wynn said.
Congressmen from Maryland and Virginia plan to meet Tuesday with U.S. Department of Transportation officials to discuss the project, said Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda. They plan to meet Wednesday with state highway officials.
Sporkin ruled that the Federal Highway Administration did not properly evaluate the impact of the proposed 12-lane bridge on air pollution or on the historic section of Alexandria, Va. The judge also said the highway administration did not give “adequate consideration” to a 10-lane alternative.
He was ruling in a suit brought by Alexandria residents who are upset by the size and impact of the proposed bridge.
Morella said she was surprised by the ruling, since she thought the only hurdle remaining was finding funds for the $1.8 billion project. She said she wants to move the project along, but hopes to find a way to accommodate both sides.
But Wynn blasted the Alexandria community activists who brought the suit despite the city’s agreement to the bridge plans, which have been in progress since 1989.
“It’s a shame that a small group of selfish individuals has created this traffic nightmare,” he said. “The cars are there now. The traffic is there. The pollution is there. Building a bigger bridge doesn’t create more cars.”
Other Maryland legislators agreed Friday that the bridge should be built as soon as possible.
“It is critically important that the judge’s decision not needlessly delay the construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge,” said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D- Baltimore, who said any further studies should be completed “as quickly as possible.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, said there is no alternative to a new bridge.
“The current bridge does not meet the day-to-day needs of its commuters or the long-range transportation and safety needs of the region,” she said. Whatever happens, Glendening said it must be done quickly.
“It’s extremely important that federal and state people work together,” he said. “We have to do whatever has to be done as rapidly as possible.” — Capital News Service reporters Keri P. Mattox, Amanda Costikyan Jones and Beth Perretta contributed to this report.