The metropolitan Washington, D.C. region suffers some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation. According to the Texas Transportation Institute, which issues a report entitled, "Estimates of Urban Roadway Congestion," under a Federal Highway Administration grant, the Washington, DC. area is performing poorly. In measuring the congestion level of freeway mileage, this region suffers from the second worst congestion levels in the nation. The report also ranks this region second worst in total vehicle hours of delay per one thousand persons. The report concludes that the annual cost of vehicle delays and wasted fuel for this region totals more than $2.37 billion annually, ranking the region first in the nation in per-capita cost of wasted fuel and time.
In no place is this traffic problem more critical than at the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. Cramming eight lanes of capital beltway traffic and a fair percentage of Alexandria and Southern Fairfax traffic that needs to cross the Potomac River each day onto a six lane bridge makes it a bridge to no where fast. Given the bridge's rapidly deteriorating condition, the states could soon be forced to close the bridge to all truck traffic and severely restrict automobile traffic. The consequences of these restrictions on this region would be devastating. Alexandria would bear the brunt of these restrictions as local commuter and interstate truck traffic traveled through local streets in search of alternative routes across the Potomac.
As a fellow resident of Alexandria, I know you are painfully aware of the challenge that lies before this Committee and Congress to replace the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge. I think there are really two questions that this Committee and its House counterpart need to address as it considers legislation to reauthorize federal highway and mass transit programs:
-- what should Congress do to replace the current bridge? and,
-- how much, measured in federal dollars, should the federal government contribute toward the replacement bridge? The short answer to the first question is to fully fund a replacement bridge and prohibit the imposition of any toll. The answer to the second question is as much money as possible, but given a realistic appraisal of what Congress is likely to provide, enough to pay for a replacement bridge and cover modest improvements on the approaches and adjacent interchanges. The $400 million recommended by the Federal Highway Administration won't do it.
If we were operating in a different, less budget conscious era, the answer to the two questions would be the same. Since this bridge is owned by the federal government, it should be the federal government's responsibility to pay 100 percent of the proposed project to replace the current bridge. I don't part company from this expressed goal. If the federal government owns the bridge, it is up to Congress to pay the entire cost of building the replacement bridge. But, when the scope of the project includes more than just the bridge, it includes the approaches and improvements to four interchanges, two on either side of the bridge, it does not appear to be a winning argument in Congress, as you have already recognized, particularly given the fact that the cost of the replacement bridge is slightly more than one-third ($667 million) of the total project cost of $1.8 billion.
It may be heresy among some of my colleagues around this table, but the reality is that this project competes against the needs in forty-eight other states and ninety-six other votes in the Senate. If we cannot secure the full $1.8 billion in federal funds, and the states are not prepared to fill the gap, my strongest fear is that the balance of the remaining costs will be collected through tolls. Tolls would be tantamount to placing use restrictions on the current bridge. With more than 70 percent of the bridge users local commuters and trucks with a Washington, D.C. area destination, a high percentage of them will avoid the tolls and use the local Alexandria streets to find other, toll-free options to cross the Potomac River. I, therefore, urge this committee to prohibit the use of tolls on the replacement bridge. Both the Governors of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland agree with this position on tolls.
I believe that given the current budget climate in Congress, we are not going to succeed in securing more than $1 billion in federal funds for this project. All is not lost, however. I think these funds will be adequate to build a replacement bridge. And, until someone steps forward with between $4 billion to $7 billion to construct an additional two lanes on the capital beltway, $1 billion will more than solve the present bottleneck at the bridge and improve flow on the two most adjacent interchanges, U.S. Route 1 in Virginia and Maryland 295. A ten lane bridge is perfectly adequate to meet the capacity demands of an eight lane beltway. Even if the two states find the money and build a fifth lane on the beltway in each direction, the Federal Highway Administration's own traffic studies project that during morning and evening peak hours in the year 2020, a ten lane bridge would carry across the river between, at worst, 92 percent (outer loop in the evening rush hours) and at best, 98 percent (outer loop in the morning rush hours) of the vehicles that the twelve lane bridge would carry. Stated another way, the proposed eleventh and twelfth lanes improve traffic capacity by only 8 percent and only during the rush hours.
Yet, those two lanes involve more than just two, twelve foot wide lanes of pavement. The two lanes drive the need to provide the separation of express/local traffic lanes and a dedicated HOV lane in each direction. This separation adds an addition eighty-four feet of shoulders, ramps and barriers to the bridge's width and drives the cost of interchange improvements that must now be designed and built to separate all this traffic into three separate crossing options all headed in the same direction. The current twelve lane replacement proposal would comprise two bridge spans totaling more than 244 feet. In contrast, the American Legion bridge, which spans the Potomac River on the northern loop of the capital beltway carries ten lanes of traffic on a 136 foot wide bridge. Until the states are prepared to subject the rest of the beltway toward this same HOV/express/local separation of traffic. I see no need to start with the bridge, or realistically expect the federal government to pay for it.
I do not think the citizens of Alexandria would object to revisiting this additional capacity when and if the two states are prepared to widen the beltway. But, is it appropriate to do it now, particularly if the local commuters are expected to make up for a shortfall in federal funds at the tollbooth?
And, if we really want to discuss future capacity and traffic growth, both states need to look beyond the Woodrow Wilson Bridge crossing for the solutions. According to the Council of Government's (COGs) 2020 forecasts, southern Potomac River crossing ten and fifteen miles south of Alexandria, that would connect with Route 301 on the Maryland side, would reduce future Woodrow Wilson Bridge traffic by an estimated ten percent and four percent, respectively. Last year, I asked federal highways to initiate a feasibility study on this crossing as well as an outer beltway. I hope to be able to share the findings of the study with you very soon.
Mr. Chairman, you have a difficult job ahead of you. I urge you to do what is necessary to fund a replacement bridge that can realistically be built and paid for without the use of tolls. A ten lane bridge fits this bill.