TODAY CONGRESS begins consideration of a solid financial plan for the most urgent transportation project in the national capital area. Replacement of the deteriorating Woodrow Wilson Bridge -- ensnarled for decades by grotesque planning disputes -- is still in litigation. A financial package to build the replacement should be readied for a start on construction as soon as the last legal block is lifted.

The proposal up for a House hearing comes from the administration, with strong bipartisan backing from this region's House and Senate members. The plan calls for $150 million a year in federal funds for four years starting in 2004. This phased approach for the out-years, along with other federal funding and money from Maryland, Virginia and the District, would cover the price tag for the entire project.

It's a workable financial schedule for a federally owned transportation link for commerce up and down the East Coast. Spreading the construction costs over an extended period would avoid any extraordinary impact on federal financing of other highway projects. Most important, the proposal is geared to getting the new bridge built before the old one has to be closed to trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles.

Every day about 7,000 tractor-trailers carry goods across the crumbling Wilson Bridge. A shutdown would create huge commercial traffic problems for hundreds of miles to the north, south and west.

The direct federal interest in a new bridge argues for expeditious approval of an orderly financial schedule. The House subcommittee on surface transportation, chaired by Rep. Thomas E. Petri of Wisconsin, can begin by approving this proposal while the federal government continues to press the courts for a go-ahead signal.