June 6, 1997
On Replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge
John J. Collins
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs

I. Overview

Chairman Warner, Senator Baucus, members of the Committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to offer the trucking industry's perspective on replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Thanks in large part to Chairman Warner's leadership, the National Highway System Designation Act began the process of Federal funding for the bridge. As we move into the next phase, we hope that this Committee will reaffirm the vital national interest in timely replacement of the bridge and the importance of a strong Federal commitment to that effort.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is extremely concerned that a replacement for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge over the Potomac River is completed in a timely manner. We believe that four principles should guide this process:

First, given the critical role of Interstate 95 to commerce and the quality of life of a large proportion of our nation's population, and the fact that the Wilson Bridge is owned by the Federal government, the Federal share for construction of a replacement structure should fully fund the costs.

Second, tolls should not be utilized as a funding mechanism for construction of the bridge. A toll barrier would reduce safety, increase traffic congestion, reduce air quality, and raise freight delivery costs for the East Coast.

Third, the bridge design should provide sufficient future capacity based on traffic projections, while minimizing the footprint and the impact on local communities to the greatest extent possible.

Fourth, extending authorizations over a number of years and phasing construction would ease the impact on limited transportation budgets.

II. ATA's Interest in the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Replacement

ATA is the national trade association of the trucking industry. We are a federation of over 36,000 member companies and represent an industry that employs over nine million people, providing one out of every ten civilian jobs. ATA's membership includes nearly 4,200 carriers, affiliated associations in every state, and 13 specialized national associations. Together, ATA represents every type and class of motor carrier in the country

ATA has a dual interest in the Wilson Bridge project. As the national representative of the trucking industry, we are naturally concerned about our industry's ability to continue to serve its customers safely and efficiently. As a landowner, with our Alexandria, Virginia headquarters building adjacent to the Capital Beltway and within sight of the Wilson Bridge, we are also looking very closely at the impact of construction - or alternatively non-construction - of the bridge replacement on our property and the more than 400 people who work there.

III. The Impact of Delay

If recent trends continue, total miles travelled in the United States will increase 20% by the end of the century. Both the total number of miles driven by trucks, and the total volume of ton-miles will grow 29% by 2004. The Washington metropolitan area will see its share of traffic increases. Seventy-one percent of freight in the Washington metropolitan area is moved by truck and many locations are served exclusively by truck. Between 1990 and 2020 total average truck miles in the metropolitan area will increase from 6.3 million to 12 million per day, a growth of 92%.

Already the second most congested city in the nation, the consequences for Washington of not replacing the Wilson Bridge in the next very few years are very serious. It has been estimated that the current bridge could be posted for weight in as little as five years, and could be closed to all traffic within eight years. Load posting would result in buses, recreational vehicles, and trucks being rerouted. Diversion of these vehicles from the bridge would put tremendous added pressure on alternate routes that are already overburdened, including the western part of the Beltway, Route 301 in Maryland, other Potomac River crossings, and I-395. The potential impact on congestion and the environment of diverting over 17,000 trucks daily to roads that already exceed capacity part of each day is very serious.

Approximately 80 percent of Wilson Bridge truck traffic serves communities along the I-95 corridor between Richmond and Baltimore. About 65 percent of trucks crossing the Wilson Bridge serve customers in the immediate Washington metropolitan area. Two sectors of the economy especially important to the Washington metro region would see significant consequences. The area's two largest supermarket chains - Giant Food and Safeway - both have distribution centers in Landover, Maryland. Presently, their trucks use the Wilson Bridge to move groceries and other products from their distribution centers to all of their stores south of the Wilson Bridge. If trucks are diverted from the bridge, it would force these supermarket chains to drive their trucks up to 60 miles out of their way in order to supply their Virginia stores. Giant Food estimates that over 200 of their tractor-trailers cross the bridge every day to supply their stores. In addition, hundreds of Giant's suppliers use the bridge. Giant considers the Wilson Bridge to be their "corporate lifeline". The additional costs incurred from driving the extra miles would translate into higher prices for consumers at the checkout counter. For both companies, the added mileage would induce more congestion and air pollution effects.

A ban on using the bridge would be particularly troublesome with respect to trucks carrying home heating fuel or gasoline. Many trucks transporting petroleum products from the pipeline transfer facility in Newington, Virginia, now use I-95 and the Wilson Bridge to make deliveries to southern Maryland. If they could not use the Wilson Bridge, the trucks would have to be rerouted many miles out of their way, increasing their accident exposure. Diversion would also add to the cost of petroleum products to residents and businesses in southern Maryland who are served by the Newington facility.

While Washington area residents would certainly bear the brunt of truck traffic diversion, the effects would be felt along the Eastern seaboard and throughout the nation. As the most important freight artery on the East coast, I-95 is absolutely essential to the safe and efficient delivery of goods. The "Beltway Barricade" that would be created as a result of traffic diversion or bridge closure would increase the costs to shippers who rely on the Capital Beltway portion of I-95 for their deliveries. The potential costs are tremendous. Over $47 billion worth of freight moves between Virginia and East Coast states north of Washington, D.C. each year. Pennsylvania shipments to and from East Coast states south of Washington exceed $31 billion annually. Much of this traffic moves on I-95. East coast manufacturers would be put at a competitive disadvantage and consumer prices would rise if I-95 could no longer be counted on as an efficient delivery route.

IV. Fully Fund the Bridge

ATA recognizes that there are limited resources available for national highway priorities. However, we believe that the Wilson Bridge replacement is a unique situation that makes it a vital national concern deserving of full Federal funding.

The Wilson Bridge is the only Interstate System bridge owned by the Federal government. As such, the Federal government is responsible for the structural and functional integrity of the bridge. Furthermore, other Federally owned roads that serve the nation's capital, such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, receive special funding out of the Federal Lands Program in recognition of their Federal ownership status.

Finally, it is unrealistic to expect Maryland and Virginia to bear the brunt of the project's cost out of regular apportionments. If they were they required to, the states would not be able to address their many other essential transportation concerns. Replacement of the bridge has national consequences, and a national commitment is thus needed to ensure that the safety and efficiency of the I-95 corridor is not jeopardized.

V. No Tolls

ATA is also very concerned about the effects of tolls, which would likely be necessary absent sufficient Federal funding. The Wilson Bridge segment of the Beltway is already the highway's most dangerous due to tremendous daily congestion. This is one of the reasons for the urgency behind construction of a replacement. It would be ironic to replace a bridge to reduce congestion and the associated accidents only to erect a toll barrier that would continue and perhaps aggravate these problems. Some suggest that automated toll collection methods would cut down on congestion. However, even under the most ideal circumstances these methods have not fully addressed the problem. For example, the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia has a high proportion of commuter traffic - motorists one would expect to take advantage of automated collection. Yet severe backups to the toll plazas are routine. The Wilson Bridge serves far fewer commuters; therefore, the number of people who take advantage of automated collection would be even more limited.

Forcing traffic to come to a stop on a free-flowing highway is inherently dangerous. Furthermore, inevitably some motorists will avoid the toll by taking alternative routes - including through residential neighborhoods - which would increase traffic and accident exposure on these roads.

On average, user taxes already comprise more than 20% of a truck's operating costs. A new toll would add to this burden, as would the reduced productivity associated with lost time due to increased congestion. The additional costs would be passed on to shippers, and ultimately, to consumers.

As an Alexandria stakeholder, we have a concern because one of the possible locations of the toll facility is adjacent to our property. It would take part of our property and significantly diminish our working environment. Construction delays would increase traffic on both local roads and the Beltway. This would affect the ability of our employees to safely commute to and from work, reduce our productivity, and diminish our overall quality of life.

VI. Maximum Capacity with Minimum Footprint

Like many other Alexandria residents, we are concerned about the impact of construction on our community. We hope that any design adopted will take into consideration both the practical aspects of moving traffic through and around Alexandria and the impacts of the project on the community. Therefore, we encourage the development of a bridge design which will minimize the project's footprint and consequences for residents' quality of life, and provide sufficient capacity to accommodate anticipated traffic increases.

The replacement bridge must be designed to accommodate the significant increases in traffic that is anticipated over the next two decades. Current travel demand forecasts indicate that by the year 2020 approximately 300,000 vehicles will cross the bridge each day, compared with the 160,000 that currently use the bridge. It would be unwise to build a bridge that saddles the next generation with the same difficulties experienced today. It would be equally unwise to design a bridge that unnecessarily spoils the unique charm and the community spirit of surrounding neighborhoods. We believe that a balance must and can be achieved.

The Wilson Bridge Coordinating Committee has recommended a general design that has twelve lanes and is about 250 feet wide. ATA believes that the structure can be narrowed without reducing capacity or compromising safety. This would lessen the impact on communities and lower the project costs. The Committee's recommended alternative also includes extensive, highly complex interchanges. These interchanges can be simplified without significant negative consequences.

VII. Extended Authorization Period and Phased Construction

We recognize that this project is expensive it would be difficult to squeeze both the project and the authorizations into a five-year period. The entire project can be completed in up to ten years. Authorizations could be made over the same time period.

While the most vital aspects of the project must be completed by 2002 to avoid closure or weight-posting, construction on other phases of the project, such as the HOV interchanges, could be delayed a number of years. Even those phases of immediate concern need not be paid for until after construction is completed, provided Congress and the Administration authorize grant anticipation notes.

VIII. Conclusions

Washington, D.C. is already the second most congested city in the nation, and the area's traffic woes affect the ability of trucking companies to safely and efficiently serve their customers nationwide. Replacing the existing Federal bridge before these problems are severely exacerbated ought to be a national imperative. As the owner of the Wilson Bridge, the Federal government is responsible for avoiding the congestion, safety, and environmental calamity of load-posting or closing the bridge, or erecting a toll barrier. The most effective and fair means for achieving these objectives is to provide full funding for the project. For the Federal share of the financing, arrangements that do not include tolls are available to lessen the impact on other transportation needs.