State seeks to join appeal of ruling that would delay new Wilson bridge

June 07, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The state of Maryland is asking to join the appeal of a federal court decision that could delay replacement of the overburdened Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River by as much as two years.

"The Wilson bridge is the No. 1 transportation priority for Maryland," state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said last week. "If it is not replaced on schedule, every mode of transportation in the state is going to feel the strain."

Plans call for the 38-year-old, six-lane drawbridge -- a portion of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95 that crosses the Potomac River, linking Maryland and Virginia -- to be replaced by a 12-lane span by 2006.

The bridge has long been the source of commuter headaches, with drivers sometimes waiting more than an hour to cross.

The Wilson bridge was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles a day, but handles about 172,000. Transportation officials expect traffic on that route to reach 275,000 vehicles a day by 2020.

In April, Judge Stanley Sporkin in U.S. District Court in Washington ruled in a lawsuit brought by several community groups in Alexandria, Va., that the Federal Highway Administration failed to conduct a proper environmental impact statement on the bridge replacement.

Plans to expand or replace the Wilson bridge date back a decade, but Sporkin ruled that the highway administration did not properly consider a 10-lane alternative that might have had a lesser impact on nearby historic and park areas and air quality.

State highway officials said producing a new impact statement could delay completion of the bridge by 18 to 24 months.

Though the ruling was against federal, not state, officials, Porcari said Maryland will ask to take part in the appeal.

"We are leaving no stone unturned to get this bridge replaced on schedule," he said.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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