WASHINGTON – Congressional budget negotiators agreed yesterday to add $600 million in federal funding to the $900 million already budgeted toward replacing the aging Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.
A spokesman for Maryland Department of Transportation said the extra funding will allow “the largest public works project for Maryland in a generation” to proceed on schedule. The bridge, which carries Interstate 95 over the Potomac River, is estimated to cost up to $2 billion.
“It would have been extremely difficult (without the additional funding). It’s a federally owned bridge. There is a federal responsibility to help replace it,” said Jack Cahalan, a spokesman for the MDOT.
“States each committed money, but this is an extraordinary project that requires extraordinary funding,” Cahalan said.
Maryland and Virginia agreed to contribute $200 million each toward a 12- lane replacement bridge over the Potomac River, in addition to the $900 million that Congress had been offering — well shy of the $1.9 billion to $2 billion price tag.
For at least a year, state officials have been urging the federal government to increase funding for the project to replace the deteriorating 39- year-old bridge that typically carries 200,000 vehicles a day, 25, 000 more than it was designed to handle.
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, said the higher federal amount was not initially included in the budget because representatives from other states did not agree that this was a federal project.
“It was even originally tough to get the $900 million because those from around the country said, `This is not our area. Why is the federal government paying so much?’ But, it’s a federal bridge,” Morella said.
Morella said she was almost definite that Tuesday’s conference committee compromise on the fiscal 2001 transportation funding bill would pass through the full Congress without any problems.
“I don’t think there will be any objections. And, we expect the president to sign it. We’re pretty assured,” Morella said.
Cahalan said the state expects the total project, which includes constructing two bridges — an eastbound and westbound span — to be completed by 2006.
He said the Wilson Bridge should remain open for use until then.
“It has been evaluated by engineers — the condition of the deck and the condition of the structure. As of right now, it can certainly remain at full operation, unless the project is delayed,” said Cahalan.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, attributed the increase to the strong commitment and team effort of state and federal lawmakers.
“We are doing the right thing in the nick of time. The bridge is vital to the entire D.C. metro area and I am proud to have worked with the entire regional delegation to get this done,” Hoyer said in a prepared statement.
“This was a bipartisan effort and would not have happened without the teamwork and cooperation that I wish Congress could display on the numerous other issues we consider,” he said.