Of all the bridges leading into Washington, my favorite is the Woodrow Wilson. It is a sportsman's bridge, a Big Game bridge that eats cars alive. Better to cross the river in a glass-bottom boat.

This bridge was opened in 1961 and has since gained a reputation as the busiest in the nation with more than 130,000 motorists trying to take it every day.

But it is also one of the most dangerous, having disabled more cars than any other span its size in America.

The American Automobile Association reports more than 32,000 calls since last year on its special hot line for persons seeking alternatives to the bridge that links Maryland and Southwest Washington with Virginia.

But frankly, there is no escape.

There are 315 bridges in the District alone, with 52 of them being renovated or slated for repair. At least 20 have signs warning truckers to stay off.

You could try the Whitehurst Freeway, which should have been called the K Street Skyway because, from beneath it, you can see the sky.

Or there is the Chain Bridge, if you like the feel of riding on chains. The Roosevelt Bridge? It's been nicknamed Rough Rider.

They are all sleigh rides compared to the Wilson, that carnivore of cars. Huge chunks of pavement just drop into the Potomac River, creating a span of bottomless potholes.

If your car gets bit by one of these things, you could end up foaming at the mouth.

You can see the victims in their wounded cars, steam pouring from the hood while they growl and sweat.

Authorities say the reason a bridge so young got so mean was because it was mistreated.

The Wilson was designed to take 85,000 cars a day. By 1977, the average was 105,000 a day. Now its up to 130,000.

The suburban sprawl that promised the good life has come back to haunt commuters by way of a killer bridge. Once you get on it, you have to hunt for the other side. For my money, the extraordinary repair operation that is under way just makes taking on the bridge more challenging.

Like wounded game, it's meaner that way.

This is the first time redecking on a major bridge has been done while maintaining rush-hour traffic.

The sight of mile-long lines of 18-wheelers bucking to a halt as they wait to take the bridge makes my adrenalin flow. Waiting my turn among them on a recent night, I left my car to survey the 5,905-foot stretch that dares to be rebuilt without being closed. You have to hand it to the Cianbro Corp. of Pittsfield, Maine, the company using the latest technology and high-speed construction techniques, trying to tame the wild bridge by November.

Working in boats and barges under flood lamps while operating cranes and gigantic buzz saws, they are replacing the deck of the bridge with a plastic-coated concrete that, it is hoped, will do what the original bridge surface could not: withstand salt used to melt ice in winter.

But you must also hand it to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who patiently, and not so patiently, wait their chance to take the bridge.

They are brave.

And they certainly know how to pull up to a bumper, if not a bump. Some who manage to cross the bridge must then stand by their wounded cars until fire and tow trucks arrive. All must wait for hours.

I wondered if my fellow motorists thought that better planning might have prevented this.

But as I passed car windows filled with disgruntled and contorted persons, I knew the answer: it's too late now.

One trucker said he had been on the road all day from Buffalo with a perishable payload.

He had dodged Ol' Smokey all the way, working in and out of convoys, headed for Springfield.

Now, he was stuck on the wrong side of the river, just a few miles from the loading dock.

A car in front of him had fallen victim to the killer bridge, and died on the span. Now the truck driver wanted to die, too.

"If I hadn't made that last pit stop, I coulda made it. I coulda kept on round Baltimore and I coulda been unloaded. I coulda . . . " the big man said heaving, knowing he coulda made it. Like hell