A Clinton administration plan to boost by $600 million the federal share of the cost of replacing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge struck an obstacle yesterday, as a key House Transportation subcommittee chairman announced his opposition.
At the same time, other area senators reined in an effort by Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) to submit the administration measure immediately, citing the need to build broad-based support and to allow state transportation officials to review the proposal.
The developments dashed the hopes of supporters that a consensus could be reached quickly on funding the new Potomac River crossing -- estimated to cost $2 billion, of which the federal government already has committed $900 million.
A letter by Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.) to U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater suggested that much wrangling lies ahead. Petri, chairman of the ground transportation subcommittee, said yesterday that the Wilson Bridge replacement was "no different than the dozens of major interstate projects around the country that states are struggling to finance."
"The federal government has already done its part. It is now time for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to do theirs," Petri said. "I will therefore oppose any attempts in Congress to provide additional financial assistance targeted solely for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project."
Petri said the states have identified only $300 million as their share, or less than 16 percent of the total. He said the three jurisdictions will receive $7 billion in federal transportation aid over six years, money that could be used for the bridge and related projects.
Separately, Robb aides told regional colleagues that he planned to include the $600 million funding measure in a Senate bill this week, but he pulled back yesterday at their request.
The administration plan would augment the federal contribution by $150 million a year for four years starting in 2004, when the federal highway program ends. The states would pay the balance.
A spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), the region's sole Republican senator, said more groundwork was needed to ensure bipartisan support in Congress.
"The senator has been very specific about the fact we need to see commitments from the states about their finances for this bridge. There are a couple things that need to be worked on together," Warner spokesman Carter Cornick said.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said the Maryland and Virginia transportation departments also must review the proposal.
Yesterday, a Robb spokesman said Petri's argument was mistaken.
"The Woodrow Wilson Bridge is unique. . . . It is the only bridge owned by the federal government in the whole interstate highway system," spokesman John DiBiase said. "The delegation will not be deterred from acting."