Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
June 6, 1997
Testimony by Randal Kell
Vice Chair of Government Affairs
Alexandria Chamber of Commerce

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. I am Randal Kell, CEO of the Mark Winkler Company. I am here today as a volunteer representative of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. I serve on the Chamber's Board of Directors and as its Vice Chair of Government Affairs. I live and work in the City of Alexandria.

The Alexandria Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in the City of Alexandria with close to 1,000 member businesses. Those businesses employ over 40,000 people; some who cross the Wilson Bridge during their daily commute.

Throughout this process, the Chamber has spoken at public forums held by the Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee and our local Alexandria City Council. Although we understand the concerns of some Alexandria residents who have properties adjacent to the bridge, the Alexandria Chamber has been a strong advocate for the need for immediate action and focusing on the effect the Wilson Bridge project will have on both the business and residential communities.

In my testimony today, I will discuss the three major points we have consistently advocated throughout this process:

First, because the bridge has less than eight years of safe life remaining, we strongly advocate moving the replacement project forward and avoiding any delays. Second, we support full federal funding. Third, we support examining less costly design options without compromising future traffic flow demands.

In discussing the first point, it is evident that we are in a state of emergency regarding the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. The bridge has less than eight years of useful safe life remaining. Simply put, we are running out of time. Including the project in the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) at an appropriate level will assure funding in a timely manner.

If we do not have the resources to begin construction on schedule, weight restrictions will have to be posted on the bridge in a few years. Placing a ban on trucks and other commercial vehicles would divert additional traffic into the already heavily congested streets of Alexandria and the District of Columbia. The diversion of commercial vehicles would also have a negative impact on our local economy. The increase in delivery costs would be significant to our grocery stores, retail shops, restaurants, hotels, and hospitals because they are heavily dependent upon these daily truck deliveries.

The second point I will briefly emphasize is that it is important to enact a bill that would provide for full funding for the replacement of the Wilson Bridge. The bridge should be federally funded at the maximum level. The current funding level of $400 million is not appropriate to provide a functional replacement. The bridge is owned by the federal government, and its commitment should be at least consistent with other highway projects in our National Highway System which are funded at 80, 90 or 100% of their costs.

Finally, the Alexandria Chamber supports examining less costly design options without compromising future traffic flow demands. In a vote of 13 to O, the Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee recommended that the interchanges be refined in order to minimize their footprint and cost without detrimental effects on safety, operation, or consistency with the preferred alternative. There are opportunities for cost reduction by eliminating such features as the pedestrian/bicycle facility, HOV and reducing the enormous size of the interchanges.

In summary, it is imperative that we continue to move forward...with a sense of urgency...to protect the regional economic interest and transportation concerns associated with the bridge and interchange improvements. We urge you to enact a bill that would provide the maximum level of federal funding.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have regarding the Alexandria Chamber's position.