WASHINGTON – Maryland state and federal lawmakers expressed renewed concern Wednesday over the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, worrying that time is short in Congress to secure the additional federal funding needed for the project.
“If we don’t get enough from Congress, this is going to eat up a major portion [of state spending],” said state Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery Democrat, at the annual meeting of the state’s congressional delegation and the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Federal Relations.
The federal government has so far pledged $900 million toward the $1.9 billion project to replace the aging, six-lane drawbridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River. But Maryland and Virginia highway officials have said that the federal government must come up with another $600 million if a 12-lane replacement bridge is to be built.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said Congress’ original budget was “unrealistic and everyone knew it.” He and others Wednesday said they are concerned that the lack of time before adjournment may affect the potential increase.
State officials have been saying for at least a year that the federal government needs to increase its share of the cost, but some in Congress have balked at what they have criticized as a gold-plated project. But with elections looming, and a target for congressional adjournment a little more than two weeks away, the time to change minds in Congress is running short.
In the meantime, the bridge continues to deteriorate, and traffic engineers have said it may have to be closed to truck traffic or it may face other restrictions to keep it from crumbling further.
“There is a short time between now and then, when Congress adjourns, so there is little room to maneuver to get the money,” said Jesse Jacobs, spokesman for Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
Forehand emphasized that because this is an interstate highway, the federal government should be allocating much more. She said she hoped Congress would put up 90 percent.
“Why is 90/10 not applied to this bridge? It’s a national highway. All interstate commerce has to come on this bridge,” Forehand said. “If they are treating us this way and only paying half, they are setting a precedent not to pay for their own roads.”
Jacobs said Maryland and Virginia each set aside $200 million for the bridge. If Maryland has to take out the rest, there “will be zero money for other projects,” he said.
Plans call for a 12-lane drawbridge that would be higher than the current span, reducing the need for drawbridge openings on the busy road. The bridge, which is a critical chokepoint on the Capital Beltway, is the only drawbridge remaining in the interstate highway system.
The bridge discussion monopolized a meeting that also touched on education, campaign finance and gas prices in Maryland.