Cost estimate for Wilson Bridge grows by 25 percent to $2.4 billion

Md. delegation to confer with federal officials

May 26, 2000|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Confronted with a potential 25 percent cost increase for construction of a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, members of Maryland's congressional delegation said yesterday they will confer with federal transportation officials before deciding their next move.

Until recently, the price tag was $1.9 billion. But new estimates by the U.S. Department of Transportation put the cost at up to $2.4 billion -- as much as a half-billion higher than expected. That estimate would build a state-of-the-art bridge with high-tech traffic and maintenance systems.

Maryland and Virginia each have committed $200 million to the project, while the federal government's share is $900 million. A request by the Clinton administration for an additional $600 million in federal money is awaiting approval by Congress.

The most immediate fear is that a struggle for more money will delay the October construction start.

"To have a 25 percent cost overrun before the first shovel goes in the ground doesn't make any sense," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County. "Obviously, I'm very concerned about delays. If we don't get this resolved, construction could be pushed back a year."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland said any extra cost would have to be paid out of federal dollars. "It's a serious problem, it's a lot of money, but I think Congress gets it, the critical nature of this project and the adverse impact on the entire region the further it's delayed."

The deteriorating six-lane bridge spans the Potomac River and connects Prince George's County and Alexandria, Va. It is a vital link not only for Washingtoncommuters, but also for East Coast traffic along Interstate 95.

Gridlock daily afflicts motorists using the bridge, which carries more than twice the traffic intended when the bridge was designed 40 years ago. Its condition is so precarious that any delay could force costly patchwork repairs, or restrictions in truck traffic that could affect businesses and travelers who depend on I-95.

The project could still stay at $1.9 billion, said Jack Basso, assistant secretary for budget and programs at the Department of Transportation.

"The $2.4 [billion] is the ultimate -- intelligent transportation systems, the ultimate messaging signs, pavement sensors for weather, traffic sensors," he said.

"Frankly, I don't think motorists would see much difference," he said. "Clearly, we can work this at $1.9 billion."

The new bridge will be 12 lanes wide. Wilson is the only federally owned bridge in the interstate system. Maryland and Virginia officials argue that overhauling it is a federal responsibility.

Wynn said there is no choice but to eliminate the extra cost and get Congress to OK the $600 million.

"I don't think the chances are very good of getting more than that," he said.

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