Statement of Kerry Donley
Mayor of Alexandria, VA
June 6, 1997
Woodrow Wilson Bridge

Good morning. I am Kerry Donley, the mayor of the City of Alexandria. I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for providing the City with this opportunity to present its views on a topic of great interest to our residents and to all citizens of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

I fear, Mr. Chairman, that much-needed replacement for the deteriorating Woodrow Wilson Bridge is slipping into a morass of budget bickering, intergovernmental posturing and potential environmental litigation. This comes as the result of the seriously flawed $1.6 billion replacement proposal put forth by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The risk grows by the day that there will be an unacceptable delay in the construction of an expanded replacement facility, or that only a six-lane replacement bridge funded entirely by the federal government will be built.

Neither of these alternatives is acceptable to anyone participating in this hearing, or to the citizens of the metropolitan region. Mr. Chairman, you have wisely called upon the Department of Transportation and others to propose lower cost design alternatives to the Coordination Committee's proposal. It is now time for all involved to come together on a realistic, cost-effective and transportation-efficient alternative.

Alexandria agrees that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge needs to be replaced, and needs to be replaced quickly. But that, of course, is not the issue. The critical issue is the nature of the replacement facility -- more particularly, a facility (a) that will meet the future traffic demands of the region, (b) that is affordable without the imposition of tolls, and (c) that can be accomplished without unreasonable delay.

The Coordination Committee's 12-lane replacement proposal, at a cost of $1.6 billion in present and over $1.8 billion in future dollars, has flunked the criterion of affordability. Mr. Chairman, I believe that a scaled down 10-lane bridge - - similar to the 10-lane American Legion Bridge at the north end of the Capital Beltway -- best meets these criteria.

Let me explain why.

1. A 10-lane bridge removes all existing bottlenecks. Morning and afternoon peak period traffic backups at the Wilson Bridge are caused by two features of the present bridge design: (a) the four-lane outer and the four-lane inner loop of the Capital Beltway each feeds into a three-lane bridge and a three- lane approach to the bridge; and (b) traffic entering the bridge corridor from U.S. Route 1 in Virginia and Interstate 295 in Maryland is forced to merge into lanes that are already clogged with traffic. These two backup-producing features are completely eliminated by a 10-lane replacement bridge. Four lanes are provided for both the outer and inner loops of the bridge, and these match the four inner and outer loop lanes on the Beltway. The remaining two bridge lanes - - referred to as "merge" lanes - are dedicated to traffic that is entering and exiting the bridge at Route 1 and Interstate 295. These simple improvements are all that are needed to remove the bottlenecks now responsible for peak period backups at the bridge.

2. A 10-lane bridge avoids tolls. If federal funding does not increase beyond the $400 million currently proposed by the administration, the 12-lane Coordination Committee bridge could require Virginia and Maryland commuters to pay nearly $1,000 a year in tolls to fill the funding gap (a $4-a-day toll, $2 each way). In addition, toll plazas will increase traffic backups during peak hour period, and will adversely affect air quality. Simply stated, a 10-lane bridge can be built for substantially fewer dollars, and without tolls.

3. A 10-lane bridge even with HOV lanes, will handle future traffic as well as the proposed 12-lane bridge and, without HOV lanes, will outperform it. The Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Technical Report projects that traffic across the bridge in the year 2020 will be almost double today's traffic. The same report makes two particularly important findings regarding the future performance of a 10- versus the Coordination Committee's 12-lane replacement facility:

-- The first, which addresses carrying capacity, is that, during morning and evening peak hours in 2020, a 10-lane bridge, with two HOV lanes, will carry across the Potomac between, at worst, 92 percent (outer loop in the evening) and, at best, 98 percent (outer loop in the morning) of the vehicles that the 12-lane bridge, also with two HOV lanes, will carry. (See  4 below)

-- Even more pertinent, a 10-lane bridge without HOV lanes, and thus with four general purpose and two merge lanes, will outperform the Coordination Committee's 12-lane facility. During all peak hours in 2020, this 10-lane facility will carry across the river, at worst, 102% of the vehicles processed by the 12-lane facility.

-- The second finding, which addresses travel delay, is that, during the morning and evening peak hours in 2020, (a) vehicles traveling within the Telegraph Road- to-Route-210 corridor (i.e., vehicles entering and/or exiting within the corridor) will experience one to two additional minutes of delay with a 10-lane facility, with HOV lanes, as compared with a 12-lane facility, and (b) vehicles traveling through the corridor during peak hours will experience seven to nine additional minutes of delay.

-- A 10-lane bridge without HOV lanes will have additional general purpose travel capacity, will perform better and will produce less traveler delay.

I doubt that any taxpayer would conclude that improving the bridge's traffic-processing performance by two to eight percent during the most heavily traveled times of the day -- and not at all if HOV lanes are excluded from the 10-lane facility -- warrants the expenditure of the hundreds of millions of additional dollars that the 12-lane facility requires.

4. The dedication of two lanes for HOV use is not justified. The 12-lane replacement facility recommended by the Coordination Committee requires its 11th and 12th lanes to be used "exclusively for HOV" purposes. It is these two HOV lanes, along with the ramps and other interchange features at Route 1, Interstate 295 and Maryland Route 210 which provide access to and from the HOV lanes, that chiefly distinguish the 12-lane replacement facility from a 10-lane facility consisting of eight general purpose lanes and two merge/auxiliary lanes. The construction of these HOV lanes and the related interchange features requires an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Is it worth this cost? I think not.

The FHWA Transportation Technical Report states that, during the morning peak hour in 2020, the inner loop HOV lane of the 12- lane facility will carry 340 vehicles, or 15% of a per-hour lane capacity of 2,200 vehicles; the outer loop HOV lane will process 885 vehicles, or 40% of capacity. During the evening peak hour, the inner loop HOV lane will carry 790 vehicles, or 36% of capacity; the outer loop HOV lane will process 335 vehicles, or 15% of capacity.

These rates of utilization, projected by FHWA for the most heavily traveled portions of the day in 2020, do not in any sense justify spending the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to expand a 10-lane to a 12-lane facility with two lanes dedicated exclusively for HOV usage. This is especially so since, as noted above, a 10-lane bridge without HOV lanes will actually outperform a 12-lane facility with HOV lanes, during all peak hours in 2020, in carrying traffic across the Potomac.

5. A 10-lane bridge is not based upon the faulty assumption that drives the 12-lane facility. The predominant justification for the 12-lane bridge lies in an assumption -- that the Capital Beltway, in both Virginia and Maryland, will be widened from eight lanes to ten, two of which will be dedicated to HOV usage. This expanded roadway, which includes the separation of traffic into express and local lanes, and the reconstruction of overpasses and interchanges, is estimated to cost, in today's dollars, in excess of $5 billion. The FHWA's Transportation Technical Report concludes that, if the Beltway is not expanded, a 10-lane Wilson replacement bridge is perfectly sufficient, both now and in the future. In light of today's fiscal realities, it is unrealistic to believe that Congress, or Virginia and Maryland, will be prepared to fund the $5 billion Beltway widening that is needed to justify the 12-lane replacement bridge. And without this widening of the Beltway, a 10-lane bridge without HOV lanes is all that is needed.

6. A 10-lane can be built without unreasonable delay. I understand there exists a concern that a decision to approve a replacement project other than the 12-lane facility recommended by the Coordination Committee may require additional environ- mental analyses, and may produce a substantial delay in the start of the project. This should not be the case.

Initially, I note, some delay is likely to occur even with the Committee's 12-lane proposal. This is because the air quality conformity analysis on the Wilson Bridge improvements, required by the Clean Air Act and performed in 1996 by the region's Transportation Planning Board, was for a 10-lane replacement facility, and assumed no changes to existing interchanges. In a recent letter to the TPB, the Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that this conformity analysis is flawed since it addressed a 10-, rather than the Coordination Committee's 12-, lane bridge facility, and because it failed to address the air quality impacts associated with the interchange revisions called for by the Committee's project. Thus, a new air quality conformity analysis would need to be undertaken even if the Committee's recommendation were adopted.

Whether additional environmental analysis and possibly a supplemental environmental impact statement would be required on a 10-lane facility is a decision to be made by the FHWA. This decision will turn on the magnitude of the change in the project and the extent to which significant environmental impacts have not already been addressed by the environmental studies and statements prepared to date.

Even if additional work is needed, however, it will not be significant. The 10-lane replacement bridge has already been addressed, to some extent, in the environmental documents. Moreover, a 10-lane facility obviously has fewer environmental impacts than the 12-lane facility. In 1996, FHWA prepared a supplemental environmental impact statement that addressed both a variety of bridge/ tunnel alternatives and a double-span "high" bridge alternative. This was done in less than three months.

Any supplemental statement on a 10-lane facility, in light of the analysis already done on this alternative, should take no longer, and thus no longer than the likely time to perform the additional air quality conformity work on the 12-lane facility.

Again, Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the citizens of Alexandria, I thank you for your leadership on this important issue, and for the opportunity to present the City's views.

I close by stating that, in light of:

(a) today's federal budget limitations and the necessity to reduce substantially the costs of replacing the Wilson bridge,

(b) the desire of all involved in this issue to avoid tolls,

(c) the projected meager utilization of HOV lanes on the bridge crossing,

(d) the significant costs associated with constructing two additional lanes on the bridge for HOV usage, and the HOV-related interchange improvements,

(e) the very questionable assumption, which is the predominant justification for the Coordination Committee's 12-lane project, that the Capital Beltway will be expanded to ten or more lanes in the near future,

(f) the insignificant difference in the traffic-processing performance, projected for the year 2020, between a 12- and a 10-lane bridge,

(g) the substantially lower costs of a 10-lane replacement facility, and

(h) the potential delays in proceeding with a 12-lane facility,

I believe that a 10-lane Woodrow Wilson replacement bridge deserves to be the preferred alternative, not just for the sake of Alexandria and its impacted neighborhoods, but for the sake of sensible, cost-effective transportation throughout the Washington, D.C., region.