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.
At the outset, I want to highlight how important it is that Congress provide the funds necessary -- as soon as possible -- to undertake this critical project. The Wilson Bridge is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life and is operating well in excess of its intended capacity. A nationally respected bridge inspection firm, under contract to the federal government, recently found that the remaining useful life of the Bridge extends to only 2004 -- seven years from now -- and it is going to take at least seven years to complete design, acquire the needed right-of-way, and construct the replacement structure. If the replacement facility is not completed by 2004, frequent, costly repair work would have to be undertaken to the existing structure -- causing major traffic disruption while wasting limited transportation resources. The Wilson Bridge was designed to carry only 75,000 vehicles per day. Today, it carries 175,000 vehicles daily. It is also the only segment of the National Capital Beltway that is limited to six lanes. Elsewhere, the Beltway is fully eight lanes, and both Virginia and Maryland are advancing their work to add lanes to the Beltway.
The State of Maryland urges Congress to include full funding for this critically-needed and unique federal project -- replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge carrying I-95/I-495 across the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. We hope that funding for this project can be authorized in conjunction with re-authorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act ("ISTEA"). It is also essential that the federal funding for this project be provided apart from the normal federal aid funding apportioned to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
There are several compelling reasons why full federal funding is justified for this project. First and foremost, the Wilson Bridge is 100% owned by the federal government. Indeed, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is the only federally-owned segment of the Interstate System. In this regard, the project is unlike all other projects funded through normal federal aid highway programs. It should not be construed as a normal federal aid project, nor as a demonstration project. In short, a special funding arrangement for the Wilson Bridge will not set any precedent for other future projects.
Second, from both practical and legal perspectives, full federal funding is a condition to the transfer of the ownership of the bridge from the federal government to local control. Full federal funding is also a prerequisite to the undertaking of the replacement project. The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 authorized creation of an interstate authority by Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to assume ownership of the federal bridge. The three jurisdictions have each passed legislation that would effectuate the creation of an authority for this purpose. We have done so in good faith with the intent of relieving the federal government of future obligations for the Bridge through this action once the federal financial obligation is committed. We are all in agreement, however, and legislation passed by our respective legislatures explicitly states, that any transfer of ownership from the federal government to local control can only take place once the federal government has met its financial obligation for replacement of the Wilson Bridge.
In regard to the federal government's financial responsibility for the bridge, it is important to note the following critical points:
Were this a state-owned bridge, the Federal government would require the states to construct a structure and approaches that meet the planning horizon required by federal regulations -- currently the year 2020. The design supported by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee does this, and any recommendation and construction of the bridge must meet these requirements. As the owner of the bridge -- the federal government -- should not absolve itself of the very requirements and regulations which it has imposed on States.
Had the Wilson Bridge been owned by a state, its replacement would have been addressed in the 1980's under the Interstate Completion program in which funding provided would have been in addition to the normal federal aid apportionments. The only reason the Bridge was not addressed then was because it was owned by the federal government. Under the Interstate Cost Estimate mechanism in that program, the federal share was 90 percent of the cost of the project. Further, the "cost-to-complete" nature of the Interstate Cost Estimate meant that the federal share would grow commensurate with the actual cost of the project.
Third, there are no practical alternatives to special federal funding for this project. The financial burden of the Bridge should not be borne by other non-federal parties, such as the users of the bridge, through the imposition of tolls. Additionally, all of the non-federal jurisdictions have gone on record expressing their opposition to tolls. There are serious and legitimate concerns regarding the imposition of tolls at this location. They could create significant congestion on an already congested interstate facility. Further, toll rates could be so high as make the implementation of the project financially and politically impractical. We also stress that Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia cannot afford to pay the federal government s cost for the project using our normal federal aid apportionments or local funding.
Given the significant cost of the project and the difficulty in authorizing full federal funding, some have understandably asked whether the project could be redesigned. It would be extremely shortsighted to change the agreed to design of the project in an attempt to decrease its cost. For example, there have been suggestions that the number of lanes be reduced from 12 to 10, or that the replacement can be done for $400 million. Neither would provide a structure that would stand the test of time. The reduction of lanes from 12 to 10 would result in estimated ques of two miles approaching the bridge and would cause severe congestion for approximately four hours during each peak period. An authorization of $400 million would merely replace the bridge with all its current capacity-related problems -- it would not be adequate to accommodate existing traffic levels and certainly would not meet future traffic demands.
This is not to suggest that cost savings cannot be achieved. We are willing to examine potential cost reductions. For example, one might consider reducing the widths of the shoulders. Further, the project would go through a value engineering process during final design -- this could result in some saving through various economies. Undoubtedly, these and other similar measures could result in significant savings. We want to emphasize, however, that we will not agree to any changes that sacrifice the integrity of the design and the functionality, especially the full access to and full movements across the bridge.
We understand that even with such reductions, the cost of the project will be sizeable. If Congress finds it is necessary to stage federal funding in order to complete the entire project, this scenario, as well as others, might be explored.
We are willing to work with Congress and the Federal government to evaluate creative financing options. For example: the Federal government might commit to pay debt issued by a local authority, thus covering the cost of the project over a period of years. Other alternatives might be worth exploring.
Whatever actions are taken -- they must be consistent with the recommendations of the Interstate Study Commission which was established pursuant to Section 1099 of ISTEA to examine the transportation demands in the region. On September 26, 1996, after years of study and debate, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Improvement Study Coordination Committee agreed to an alternative. Any significant deviation from the recommendations of the committee will jeopardize all of its work, and more importantly, the likelihood of a timely implementation of the project.
We ask for your support in a fair and equitable funding plan, commensurate with the federal government's ownership and interest in the project, and we ask for expeditious treatment given the condition of the Wilson Bridge. Your consideration of our request, as part of the discussions on the re-authorization of ISTEA, would be greatly appreciated.