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At Wilson Bridge, Celebration Adds To Congestion

Event organizers said the region's U.S. House delegation could not make the ceremony because of a scheduled vote, an explanation seconded by the office of Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). But U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) said he, Wolf and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) boycotted the event because they felt snubbed.

"Frank and Tom and I were a little bit peeved that we worked as hard as we did to get all that money and were put up in the peanut gallery, and the three people who had nothing to do with it tooted across the bridge," Moran said. He was referring to the two governors and to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was not at the event.

Moran said organizers should have foreseen that rubbernecking would effectively shut down the Beltway. "You don't close the East Coast's main highway to do a PR stunt," he said. "We found that objectionable."

Kaine used his comments to send a message to state legislators, who will meet in Richmond on June 23 in a special session on transportation funding. "I'm going to get a little bit of Washington magic and bring it back to Richmond," Kaine said. "Action doesn't happen without courage and compromise."

The dignitaries arrived in Woodrow Wilson's Pierce Arrow, a monster of a car that maneuvered around the ceremony in fits and starts. The driver came within several inches of the marching band and the honor guard before stopping and reversing several times to make a turn. It was clear from the driver's struggle that the Pierce Arrow was not equipped with power steering.

It was hard not to draw an analogy between the Pierce Arrow's path and the difficulty in funding and building the bridge.

"It was a series of near-death experiences," said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, who served in the same capacity under a previous governor, Parris N. Glendening (D), and played a large role in getting the project done.

O'Malley said the bridge's completion reflected the ability of the nation and the region to come together when cooperation was really needed.

"To those who say we can't build large projects like this anymore -- on time and on budget -- they underestimate our resolve. We can still achieve great things," O'Malley said.

But it will be weeks before motorists will be able to use the bridge and months before additional lanes provide relief from the congestion. Eventually, the twin spans will carry 12 lanes of traffic.

At the end of the ceremony, the span's giant drawbridge, which was raised like a sword of honor, was slowly lowered, allowing the VIPS and construction workers to walk across the span and admire the views and the sunny day.

Staff writer Amy Gardner contributed to this report.

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