Statement of Wayne K. Curry, County Executive
Prince George's County, Naryland
before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Environment and Public Works
June 6, 1997

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I am Wayne K. Curry, County Executive for Prince George's County, Maryland. Thank you for the opportunity to present the views of a local government official on a regionally significant Interstate Highway System project - the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

I would also like to take this time to express our appreciation for the efforts of Senator Warner, other members of the Committee and the members of the Maryland and Virginia Congressional delegations for their efforts to secure funding for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

We have participated in a regional study process with Federal, State and local representation and the most extensive public outreach and involvement used in planning any transportation facility in this region. This process verified that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a tremendously important transportation link for the Metropolitan Washington D.C. region and of particular importance to Prince George's County.

The Need

The Washington D.C. Region needs at least a 12 lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge which includes High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to ensure the economic vitality of the region. This conclusion is based on regional growth forecasts of 43% in employment and population by the year 2020. This increase in employment and population will result in a travel demand on the bridge requiring 16 to 18 lanes.

Currently, 85% of the 175,000 daily trips crossing the Bridge are going to, from or between destinations in the Washington DC region. Only 10% of the total daily trips are made by trucks which averaged 17,500 per day in 1996. Two-thirds of these trucks or nearly 12,000 trucks are servicing businesses in the Washington region and cannot be diverted away from the Wilson Bridge.

The current 6 lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a bottleneck resulting in traffic delays; it experiences double the accident rate of the Beltway approaches in Maryland and Virginia and is a major contributor to the region's air quality problem. Compounding this problem are the four interchanges - two on each side of the Potomac River which have inadequate traffic operations components that result in additional congestion and accidents on the adjoining local roadways, ramps and limited merge areas. Given the current situation and the expectation that the pattern of traffic and percentage of trucks experienced today will be similar in the future, we need a 12 lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge now.

The Study Process

The need to replace this rapidly deteriorating Federally owned bridge and provide adequate capacity to meet the future travel demand has been long recognized by Federal, State and local authorities. A truly regional study process using the Coordination Committee format was developed by the Federal Highway Administration to ensure Federal, State and local issues were discussed and appropriately addressed in the required planning studies.

As you know, the Coordination Committee was comprised of 14 individuals who were State and local elected officials as well as senior Federal and State agency representatives representing the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland. Since 1992, the Coordination Committee initiated a thorough analysis of community and environmental concerns as well as regional and local mobility needs and issues. This process included over 1,500 citizens who have been directly involved at more than 70 meetings and hearings expressing the needs and concerns of their communities. In addition, 9,000 citizens, 250 civic and business associations and 75 Federal, State, regional and local officials were kept informed of the study progress by newsletters and other correspondence. The Committee listened to the citizens and directed the urban design, engineering, traffic operations and environmental consultants to develop alternatives to balance the needs and address the concerns of all involved in a cost effective manner.

The study process was successfully concluded following several big compromises by the Coordination Committee. The compromises focused on the recognition of the potential land side impacts to the City of Alexandria by a wider Wilson Bridge and approaches as well as the traffic congestion that would result by 2020 in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and Prince George's County by not providing 16 to 18 lanes on the replacement Bridge.

The consensus alternative agreed upon is the 12 lane bridge with a local/express lane configuration including two high occupancy lanes. This configuration improves safety by separating through traffic from the local traffic weaving to access the two interchanges on each side of the Potomac River. In addition, the HOV lanes provide the most effective means of increasing the people carrying capacity of the Bridge without providing the needed 16 to 18 lanes to meet the forecasted travel demand. It should also be noted that the Committee's selected alternative of a 12 lane bridge with express/local roadways and HOV lanes was unanimously approved by a vote of 19 to 0 by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. This is a significant regional endorsement by a board predominantly composed of State and Local elected officials.

Local Importance

While travel demand numbers are impersonal, our constituents are real and must be served to the best of our ability. Successful business people are real as well and need the support of government to meet our constituent's needs in a cost effective manner. Our citizens and the business community demand and deserve adequate transportation facilities that will permit the Washington D.C. region to expand its economic vitality and further improve the quality of life for-all.

For these reasons, a 12 lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge is needed. In addition, given that over 70 percent of the rush hour traffic crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge uses one of the four interchanges adjacent to the Bridge for commuting and business purposes, these interchanges also need to be included as part of the new bridge project. A 12 lane bridge and improved interchanges will help ensure our constituents can get to work, shop and meet their cultural and recreational needs while permitting our businesses to provide the goods and services our constituent's need and demand and help the regions' economy prosper.

Any reduction in the number of lanes below 12 on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge or the elimination of interchange improvements from the project would result in congestion greater than we experience today, more accidents than we experience today and a significantly deteriorated quality of life for all of those residing and working in this region. A Woodrow Wilson Bridge that does not include 12 lanes and improved interchanges will have a chain reaction that will cause the use of other regional and local transportation facilities to increase beyond their capacity and cause further regional transportation failures. The failure of our regional transportation system will result in lost business opportunities and reduce the value of the region as a place to live and work.

We have worked together with Federal, State and local representatives to identify the needs associated with replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the four adjacent interchanges. We followed a fully open and extensive public involvement process led by the Coordination Committee to identify community needs, concerns and issues. The Coordination Committee considered over 350 citizen led solution ideas which were used to develop 35 alternatives. The use of urban designer traffic forecasters, engineers, environmentalists and financial analysts by the Committee enabled them to reduce the alternatives offered for the required public hearings. As a result of citizen input and Coordination Committee compromises, the Committee selected the 12 lane bridge alternative discussed today. Please provide the funding needed for the new bridge and interchanges the Washington region needs and deserves.