Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
June 6, 1997
The Honorable Robert E. Martinez
Secretary of Transportation
Commonwealth of Virginia

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is an essential part of the national transportation network. This six-lane bridge spanning the Potomac River, part of the Capital Beltway, is the highest traffic volume roadway in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The bridge is the only segment of the entire Interstate system in the United States owned 100% by the federal government, which really is why we're all here today.

Since I-95 on either side of the bridge is currently eight lanes, the six-lane Woodrow Wilson Bridge represents a geometric constraint on the highway system. U.S. Route 1 and I-295 are immediately adjacent to the bridge on either side of the river. The combination of a narrow bridge and large traffic volumes from Route 1 and I-295 results in traffic congestion throughout most of each day.

The Bridge was designed to carry 75,000 vehicles daily, a capacity design that was breached by the early 1970s. By 1979, structural deficiencies were identified in the deck surface, leading to deck replacement in 1983. As traffic volumes continued to increase, the entire Beltway was upgraded to provide an eight lane cross section, but the bridge remained at six lanes. In 1989, the Average Daily Traffic (ADT) was 160,000 with summer peaks as high as 181,000 per day.

Because of the stress applied by the magnitude of current traffic, including trucks, the bridge cannot last much beyond the next eight years under current conditions. A 1994 inspection report indicates that the bridge will require major rehabilitation or truck restriction by 2004.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge accident rate--at 153.5 per 100 million vehicle miles of travel--is double the Virginia state average rate of 75 for similar type facilities. The accident rate of the American Legion Bridge and the portion of the Beltway approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is also substantially lower. Accidents occurring on the bridge are primarily rear-end and sideswipes, typical of accidents in highly congested areas.

To address capacity and safety issues, the Woodrow Wilson coordination committee selected parallel drawbridges with a 70 foot clearance over the navigable channel. The typical section of the selected alternative will be three local lanes, two express lanes, and one HOV lane in each direction.

By 2020 traffic volumes will almost double to 300,000.

Were we to go with a simple complete rehabilitation of the existing bridge only, the accident rate would increase substantially as congestion becomes common throughout the day. In 2005 queues would extend up to 8 miles upstream during the peak and each peak period would be 5 hours long. By 2020 queues would extend 12 to 14 miles upstream. The safety performance of the Beltway would also deteriorate substantially.

Both Virginia and Maryland are committed to adding HOV lanes to the Beltway and these plans are reflected in the region's Long Range Transportation Plan. In addition, HOV lanes currently exist on US 1 north of the Beltway. Fairfax County is currently studying the feasibility of adding HOV lanes to US 1 south of the Beltway. The District of Columbia plans to add HOV to I-295, and the Maryland State Highway Administration and Prince George's County are currently studying the feasibility of adding HOV to MD 210. Therefore, the Coordination Committee decided that the proposed build alternatives should include HOV lanes through the project corridor. In addition, the Committee indicated that preference should be given to HOV movements and the alternatives should be developed to facilitate access and increase usage.

Also in response to safety and operational issues, the possibilities of separating express or longer distance trips from shorter trips were examined. In an express/local lane configuration, the travel lanes in opposing directions are separated by a barrier. One set of lanes in each direction is designated as express lanes, which typically have limited weaving and merging as there are fewer entrance and exit ramps and priority is given to through trips. The other set is local lanes which provide egress and ingress from the local roadway system via interchanges. The express and local travel lanes in the same direction are also separated by a barrier.

The express/local system is particularly desirable for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge corridor because interstate travelers would be able to use the express lanes and avoid local traffic in the region, particularly during the morning and afternoon commuting periods. Express trips are those trips that travel through the entire project area, from west of VA 241 to east of MD 210. Express/local lane configuration concepts were developed and evaluated in conjunction with the development of the build alternatives.

The most important points for us to remember:

1.The Woodrow Wilson Bridge has a remaining useful life approximately to the year 2004. If everything went perfectly smoothly, it would take seven years to complete the design, acquire needed right-of-way and construct the replacement structure.

2.As mentioned, the facility is owned 100% by the federal government. This has significant ramifications.

Had the bridge been owned by the states, Virginia or Maryland, or both, it would have been addressed in the early 1980s in the Interstate Completion program under the Final Interstate Cost Estimate. Federal funding in that program was set at 90% and, most importantly, all funds were provided above the normal federal aid apportionments to each state. So such projects were funded in addition to the normal state apportionments. Furthermore, under the "cost-to-complete" character of this program, that federal share grew commensurate with the actual cost of the project and was not just based on a one-time project estimate cost.

The only reason the Bridge was not then addressed was because it was owned 100% by the federal government. We should not now be penalized as a result thereof.

Some have called for a simple replacement of the bridge itself, paid for by the feds, with no consideration of the costs of the approaches, which include the interchanges. Some have even suggested the federal obligation is simply to pay for a structure with the same six lanes on it.

Were this bridge a Virginia facility, say, it were over the James River, and a replacement were needed, the federal regulations would require that we replace the structure and its approaches to the capacity needed for the planning horizon, which is through the year 2020. If we Virginians were to suggest a simple replacement in kind of a Virginia bridge, without addressing the approaches, and without meeting the 2020 planning horizon need, it would be rejected by FHWA. The feds cannot absolve themselves from meeting exactly the same requirements they impose on all the states because, for once, we're talking about a 100% federally-owned facility.

Back in 1995, Senator Warner, with your dedicated assistance and leadership, the National Highway System included a provision blessing the establishment by the three affected jurisdictions of an Authority that would be able to assume ownership of the bridge once the new structure were in place.

Consistent with that NHS provision, all three jurisdictions--Maryland, the District, and Virginia--have, in fact, enacted legislation creating such an Authority. We three have shown good faith in moving forward to provide the legal framework that would allow for acceptance of the new bridge. We reiterate our commitment to move forward with the actual creation of the Authority as necessary, but restate that we will only do so when the federal funding commitment has been met. At such time, we stand ready to provide the mechanism to assume title to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and absolve the federal government from any future special obligation. The Bridge would henceforth compete for future funds like any other bridge in America.

Within the functional transportation needs for the bridge and its approaches, and with complete adherence to all environmental regulations, Maryland and Virginia have been working on ways we might reduce the overall cost of the facility. I am confident we will be able to reach significant reductions in those costs, although the final cost undoubtedly will remain a very large number. We stand willing to continue our cost efforts, as long as capacity and environmental considerations are fully respected.

Thank you.