Testimony by Michael J. Lewis, Chief of Staff
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)
and Incoming Director of Legislative Affairs
Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce
Woodrow Wilson Bridge
June 6, 1997

Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. My name is Mike Lewis. As many of you know, I serve as Chief of Staff for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics -- better know as AIAA -- the nation's largest organization for aerospace professionals and corporations. In that role, I maintain oversight responsibility for AIAA's government relations and public affairs activities, and it is in that capacity that I may have interacted with some of you.

Today, however, I appear before you as a representative of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the thousands of companies and businesses that call Northern Virginia, and particularly Fairfax County, home. The AIAA is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, and, like every other local business, our 110 employees in this area have a strong interest in improving the transportation system and maintaining the positive quality of life in the area.

Achieving those goals, however, must begin with the replacement of the failing Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Simply stated, there is no bigger transportation issue for our region than the one you are discussing today. Extension of rail to and past Dulles Airport is important to us. A fifth lane on the Capital Beltway is important to us. Fixing the Springfield "mixing bowl" is important to us. But none of these projects are a disaster waiting to happen like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

And none of those projects are, or will be, owned 100% by the federal government, like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Like our business counterparts here, we have one simple message for you here today: we support full federal funding of a replacement bridge, with sufficient capacity to meet the transportation needs of the 21st Century and beyond.

Within that message, though, there are other issues we ask you to consider as part of your discussions on this topic. The first is: What are the effects if a new bridge is not built?

The most recent studies of the structural integrity of the existing Woodrow Wilson Bridge show it has about 7 years of useful life left. If nothing is done to address this impending failure, we may soon see weight limits and truck bans on the bridge as a form of life support. The consequences of such a restriction on the rest of the region's transportation network would be severe.

The Capital Beltway in Virginia between 1-95 and the American Legion Bridge is already gridlocked for eight hours each day during the morning and evening rush hours. The added burden of diverted truck traffic will only exacerbate the challenges we face. Bridge weight limits also will add to the costs of local and regional businesses looking to get their products to market. Can you imagine the wasted time, money and other resources if an Alexandria firm has to drive all the way around the Beltway, or through the District of Columbia, to make a delivery just across the bridge in Maryland? How about the added environmental impacts of this same trip? Such a scenario may become a reality unless the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is replaced in the near future. That same company may choose to relocate its offices outside this region as a result, taking with it jobs and tax revenues.

The second issue is why the federal government should provide full funding. The answer is simple: the federal government owns the existing bridge.

Other state-owned infrastructure projects have enjoyed substantial federal support, and this project should be no different. This is especially true given the number of motorists along the East Coast potentially impacted by the bridge's impending collapse. The federal government, as sole owner of the existing bridge, has to take the lead in providing the necessary funding for its replacement.

I-95 and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge are a major thoroughfare for motorists and businesses from Maine to Florida. Millions of citizens along the corridor depend upon the bridge as a vital transportation link, whether trying to get their products to their customers or to see their grandchildren. Allowing this bridge to slowly crumble will impact travelers outside the Metropolitan Washington area just as much as, if not more than, those who live and work here.

Obviously, we recognize that fiscal realities and the recent budget deal have set parameters for federal spending for the next several years; and we were disappointed that the Chairman's call for increased transportation funding as part of the budget agreement was rejected. However, the budget agreement does not relieve the federal government of its responsibility to replace a structure that it alone owns. Just as business owners must make reinvestments in their infrastructure, even when times are tight, so must the federal government. We ask that you support Senator Robb's legislation, 5.483, and include full funding for the bridge as part of ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) reauthorization.

The third issue is whether, in the interest of economy, we should skimp on bridge capacity and design. For the record, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce has never taken a formal position on any of the design alternatives considered by the citizens group that made the ultimate recommendation. However, we have always insisted that whatever solution is chosen does not replace one bottleneck with another. We believe the design recommendation of the coordinating committee largely achieves that goal.

Backing away from their recommendations for capacity may shortchange the benefits a new bridge will bring. The issue is not what capacity is needed to relieve today's congestion. We must construct a bridge that will have sufficient capacity to handle the traffic flows often, twenty, even fifty years from now. It is safe to say that we will get one shot at a new bridge and one shot only. Constructing a bridge with insufficient future capacity, at best, amounts to a lost opportunity, and, at worst, a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce urges you to maintain support for a bridge design that meets future demand. If you have to look for opportunities to trim short term costs, we suggest that interchanges leading up to the bridge be the first place considered. The interchanges can always be constructed as new money becomes available. A sixth lane on the bridge cannot, at least not cost-effectively.

The economy of Northern Virginia and the entire metropolitan area is dependent upon a solid transportation network that effectively moves people and goods across jurisdictional boundaries. No longer are transportation patterns centered around movement into and away from the District of Columbia. Travel in this region increasingly is suburb-to-suburb, with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge providing a critical link in that system.

Additionally, one of the realities of our local economy is that the technology firms we enjoy do not have be located here to be successful. They can just as easily do their business from Austin, Texas or Indianapolis. Thus, to remain competitive, we have to provide an effective transportation network that makes us an attractive place to live and do business. A collapsing Woodrow Wilson Bridge tarnishes that reputation. Construction of a new bridge is of vital importance to Fairfax County, its economy, and its businesses and citizens.

Mr. Chairman, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce appreciates the opportunity to appear before you today. We also appreciate your leadership and that of the rest of the region's congressional delegation. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.