Statement of Susan Williams
Greater Washington Board of Trade
Woodrow Wilson Bridge
June 6, 1997

Chairman Warner and members of the subcommittee, my name is Susan Williams and I chair the Greater Washington Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is the regional chamber of commerce for greater Washington which includes Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland and the District of Columbia.

I would like to thank you for your very important efforts in working to improve our nation's transportation infrastructure.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge has been a transportation priority of the Board of Trade for many years. The genesis of our involvement on the federal level for this bridge has two benchmarks. First, the Interstate Study Commission for Transportation which was established under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. This Commission, chaired by Jack Herrity and composed of leaders from throughout our region, led to additional federal legislation included in the National Highway System Act of 1995 which gave Congressional consent to develop an interstate compact to own and operate a new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Second was the recently completed three year study by the federally-led Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee which, in September 1996, recommended building a $1.6 billion dollar, 12-lane, 70' high drawbridge. This three-year effort was the latest in various studies of the bridge going back at least 10 years.

Obviously, there has been a great deal of time and effort devoted to solving the problems of the Wilson Bridge, and as we meet here today there are only a short eight years of useful life remaining in this critically important structure.

The Wilson Bridge is overburdened with approximately 175,000 vehicles each day, carrying more than twice the bridge's design capacity. It is integral to the region's economic life in so many ways.

The Wilson Bridge is also a critical point in moving commercial and visitor traffic along I-95, the "main street" of the East Coast. In fact we recently received copies of correspondence from business organizations in Pennsylvania and New York recognizing the importance of rebuilding the Wilson Bridge in order to help alleviate the interstate transportation problems of companies in their areas.

In addition, a new study commissioned by the Board of Trade reveals that our region has insufficient bridge capacity and ranks next to last among similar major metropolitan areas as measured in lane miles of bridges to population. In addition, while other metropolitan areas studied built between two and five new river spans during each decade over the past 30 years, Washington has added no new major bridges.

Given the short lifespan remaining for the bridge, we must not allow the status quo to continue - we must quickly move forward to construction.

This morning I am here to restate the principles of our program to rebuild the bridge and to recommend a target date for completion.

1. Maintain Full Federal Funding/No Tolls.

We restate our position that full federal funding for replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge be secured so that no tolls are required for its construction and operation. Senator, can you imagine the Capital Beltway with tolls? This funding should cover the bridge itself plus the cost of modifications and improvements to approach lanes and interchanges where required by federal regulations.

2. Examine Project Costs/Project Phasing.

Given the challenges in funding this project, it would be useful to closely examine project costs to determine if there is any latitude in streamlining these costs while maintaining the traffic capacity of the recommended alternative. We have consistently been concerned with "whistles and bells". For example, we understand that current design items include HOV lanes, an urban deck and an island deck which cumulatively add well over $100 million to the total project.

We continue to hear a wide range of "back of the envelope guesstimates" as to how much the project might cost. My point, Senator, is if there are real savings to be accomplished, while maintaining the project's integrity, then we need to know this.

Further, in order to move forward more quickly, we suggest that an examination be made of phasing the construction of various components of the replacement structure. Are there essential segments of construction that could proceed on a fast track basis while others are phased in later? The situation is critical, we must be flexible!

3. Governing Mechanism.

The 1995 National Highway Act, as I mentioned, gives consent for an interstate compact to be put in place as the governing mechanism to oversee the construction and ownership of the replacement bridge. Final action of the legislatures in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia is scheduled for completion by April, 1998. If an authority is not established at the state level then Congress should put in place an entity to undertake this effort. By year end, federal funds to build the bridge replacement should be transferred to a holding entity for later use.

4. Waiver of Environmental Impact Statement.

If any refinements or construction phasing is required, we would obviously want to avoid any major procedural delays. An enormous amount of time and effort has already been devoted to the environmental concerns surrounding options for this project. It is suggested, therefore, that to maintain a reasonable completion schedule, further EIS requirements related exclusively to the 12-lane recommended alternative of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Coordination Committee be waived.

5. Ribbon Cutting July 4, 2006.

As the existing bridge has no more that eight years of useful life remaining, it is important for reasons of `safety, mobility and economic development to open the replacement bridge in no more than eight years. We must urgently commit ourselves to a completion date and ribbon cutting by July 4, 2006 and hold' the region accountable for this opening date. We cannot afford to wait longer!

The Board of Trade will maintain the Wood row Wilson Bridge as one of our key transportation priorities as it is essential to the safety of residents and economic prosperity of our region. We will continue to devote our resources and private sector leadership to this important effort. We appreciate your leadership as well.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.