Plan for half a bridge Highway bill: Six-year spending plan comes up short for Woodrow Wilson and light rail.

May 31, 1998

IT'S HARD to imagine that a $200 billion federal transportation bill could leave out a vital project. This is a huge spending plan, after all, that had more than its share of pet projects, mostly in the states and districts of powerful legislators and their colleagues who toed the line. Maryland officials have praised the plan that evolved after an arduous process, but there are at least two reasons for concern.

First, Congress is shirking an obvious responsibility by failing to pay the full cost of replacing the congested, dilapidated Woodrow Wilson Bridge that links Maryland and Virginia. Although the bridge is owned by the federal government, Congress has not agreed to pick up the full bill.

The $900 million approved by Congress is only about half the amount needed for a bridge that is a main travel route in the nation's second most congested region.

Second, the transportation bill failed to include money for engineering and construction of a light rail line to intersect the Hunt Valley-Baltimore Washington International Airport route. A second route would attract transit riders in Baltimore's eastern and western suburbs.

The bill does provide $120 million to double-track parts of the light rail line where only one track exists. This will remedy a planning flaw that causes delays.

Maryland was also successful in gaining $185 million to expand and upgrade its popular MARC commuter rail system.

But the federal government's work on transportation in Maryland will not be complete until it meets its obligations to repair the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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