SWIFT REPLACEMENT of the national capital area's deteriorating Wilson Bridge is more than just a local road project in need of federal assistance. The legislative effort mounted on Capitol Hill this week by a bipartisan coalition of Maryland and Virginia legislators from both houses points up the importance of this federally owned transportation link to commerce up and down the East Coast.
Nearly 2 percent of the trucked gross national product crosses the Wilson Bridge in a given year. Every day about 7,000 tractor-trailers carry goods across the span to sites beyond the Washington area. Money to construct a replacement span already includes a heavy commitment of state and local funds, and needs congressional approval for federal spending that would begin in 2004. The financing schedule proposed by the administration and strongly backed by the area's congressional delegations would get the new bridge built before the old one has to be closed to trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles.
The bill would provide $150 million a year for four years, a phased approach that would protect the federal interest not only in moving goods in this part of the United States but also in moving federal employees to their daily assignments. Spreading construction costs over an extended period would avoid any extraordinary impact on federal financing of other highway projects.
While Congress studies the Wilson financial proposal, the bridge project is still in the courts. A U.S. District Court ruling three months ago ordered a halt to construction pending additional environmental review. The U.S. Department of Transportation is appealing that decision. The department argues that it met requirements with its initial review.
The combination of congressional and court proceedings means further delays. On both fronts, the condition of the old bridge and the federal interest in a new one speak for expeditious resolutions.