Since legislation to fully fund the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project was introduced, some have characterized the proposal as too much federal funding for a too-expensive parochial concern. On the contrary, the funding plan fairly apportions costs for a project that is strongly in the national interest.
First, the proposal obligates Virginia, Maryland and the District to contribute a fifth of the project's cost, which is consistent with the normal federal-state cost split for interstate projects. The House and Senate bills require $400 million from the Washington region in exchange for $600 million in additional federal funding. Combined with $900 million provided by last year's federal transportation bill, the formula provides for the full cost of the $1.9 billion project.
Second, replacing the overloaded and aging Woodrow Wilson Bridge is a national priority. No facility along the Eastern Seaboard is more important to the flow of national commerce than the Wilson Bridge. With its location at the midpoint of Interstate 95, it is one of the nation's busiest highways and a critical link in the movement of goods from Miami to Maine.
At least 1.3 percent of our nation's GDP carried by truck moves across the Wilson Bridge, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Essential goods such as food, energy and paper products top the list of bridge shipments. As much as $100 billion of the nation's economy is supported -- literally -- by the Wilson Bridge.
What's more, the bridge carries the lion's share of trucks carrying national commerce through the Washington region, about
62 percent of the "through" tractor-trailer traffic. This translates into some 7,000 heavy trucks a day crossing the bridge to carry goods beyond the metro area, while another 7,000 tractor-trailers move local shipments.
Commodities crossing the bridge travel an average of 435 miles, which places locales from Massachusetts to Georgia within the Wilson Bridge's economic "travel-shed." A quarter of the bridge's southbound "through" trucks are bound for North Carolina, while trucks heading for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina each account for about 10 percent. An estimated 24 percent of southbound "through" trucks begin their journeys in New Jersey, while Pennsylvania and New York/New England each account for 17 percent.
Unfortunately, the Wilson Bridge is vastly overburdened with traffic, overrepresented in accidents and is wearing out from overuse. It was designed to handle 75,000 vehicles a day, but now carries almost three times that amount of traffic.
And travel forecasts predict substantially heavier traffic. The bridge already is one of the country's 10 worst bottlenecks, according to the American Automobile Association, and an estimated 110,000 additional vehicles per day are expected in the next two decades. By 2020, the forecast is for approximately 300,000 cars and trucks to cross the bridge every day.
The bridge's accident record -- twice the average rate of the rest of the Beltway -- exacerbates its chronic congestion. Gridlock is a major hassle for local motorists, but it also exacts a cost on the movement of goods, which is ultimately billed to consumers up and down the East Coast.
Most important, while state and federal agencies are working to keep the bridge safe until a new crossing is built, an unforeseen structural problem could cause lane closures or even a ban on heavy trucks.
Building a new bridge that meets traffic and safety needs is in both the national and local interest. Absent adequate funding, the project may face delays, down-scaling or both.
The legislation to fully fund the project is a major step forward. We urge senators and representatives to appreciate the national importance of replacing this ailing bridge with a structure that can safely and efficiently carry traffic well into the next century and to pass the bills without delay.
-- Shirley J. Ybarra
-- John D. Porcari
are, respectively, Virginia's secretary of transportation and Maryland's secretary of transportation.