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The Capital Beltway's southern (southeastern, or downriver) crossing of the Potomac River, going from Alexandria, Virginia to Oxon Hill, Maryland. In addition to the Beltway's Interstate 495 designation, the Wilson Bridge also carries the Interstate 95 designation as part of the southeastern half of the Beltway.

The bridge itself is a six-lane drawbridge, and a notorious bottleneck for traffic even when not opened. It desperately needs to be replaced, as heavy truck traffic will have to be banned by 2004, and the bridge could (in theory) fall into the water in fifty years. A replacement project is underway, with (at last count) 12 lanes planned for the new bridge, but work was tied up for several years by environmental concerns, NIMBYism in Alexandria, and political/jurisdictional fights between Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R). Maryland is technically responsible for the majority of the project, since it owns the Potomac by a colonial grant from the King of England, but Virginia, Maryland and the federal government are sharing the cost of the new bridge.

31 December 2001: after the recent election of VA Governor-elect Mark Warner (D), a Northern Virginia businessman, the first thing he did was call Glendening to push regional cooperation, especially on this project. Huge differences still remain (the largest being Glendening's insistence on using more-expensive union labor for the entire bridge project, and Virginia's consistent refusal to allow its project contribution to be spent this way, in light of both the traditional anti-union stance in Virginia and the state's billion-dollar budget shortfall), but hopefully the two Democrats will at least be willing to talk to one another, in direct contrast to the open hostility between Glendening and Gilmore during Gilmore's final year in office.

25 February 2003: Yet another change: Maryland elected a Republican governor in November 2002, Robert Ehrlich. The hoped-for progress in 2002 between Glendening and Warner never materialized, in large part because Glendening made a stunning series of PR and personal missteps that hobbled him politically. Very much like Mark Earley and Jim Gilmore in Virginia in 2001, Democratic candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend wished her party's incumbent governor would just go away. One can hope that the bridge will be fixed before it falls into the water, but as for me, I'll keep taking US 301 over the Potomac on my trips north, rather than mess with the Hellway.

The situation with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is even more grim than VT_Hawkeye described. The bridge is only six lanes wide, and has been inadequate since the day it was built. In addition, a recent tieup in construction of the replacement bridge has emerged. A contract for construction of the superstructure of the new bridge was expected to come in at a cost of about $475 million dollars. Only one bid was returned, which was for $850 million dollars, so the MD State Highway Administration has had to go back to square one in the bidding process. Maryland's new governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. has just taken over the mess from Parris Glendenning, and is the first Republican governor since Spiro T Agnew. Hopefully he can restore some sanity to the process of governing the People's Republic of Maryland.

Even with the replacement bridge, commuters will still be facing hellish traffic problems. If and when the upgraded Wilson bridge is opened, this will put more pressure on the The Mixing Bowl near Springfield, one of the most infamous interchanges in the entire Eisenhower Interstate System, despite ongoing construction to upgrade that section of road. Much of the traffic on this stretch of Interstate 95 is through traffic, and should be diverted off of the Capital Beltway system. There have been proposals bandied about for as long as I can remember (since the 1970's anyway) to build a bridge further down the Potomac River in Quantico, and to upgrade the US Route 301 corridor in southern Maryland to an Interstate-Class highway. I wonder if it will ever happen in my lifetime. With the increased emphasis on Homeland Security this should be done as well, a sucessful attack on any of DC area bridges across the Potomac could deal a crippling blow to not only the regional economy, but the national economy as well.

A couple of side notes: The Wilson Bridge had to undergo a complete redecking in the early 1980's which caused severe traffic problems in the Washington DC area (I had to commute over the bridge frequently in those days). To minimize the delays, they came up with a fairly novel solution: Rather than tear up the old decking and pouring the new decking in place, taking a badly needed lane out of commission for several weeks while the concrete cured, they worked almost entirely at night, and were usually able to fully open the bridge to traffic by morning. This is how they did it: First, they would remove a number of short sections of decking each night. Once each section was removed, they took a barge mounted crane and lifted whole sections of precast concrete roadway up to the bridge, and they were set in place. A number of sections could be replaced each night, and the roadbed, while not quite finished, was driveable by morning. The contractor finished the work under budget and several months ahead of schedule, earning himself a tidy bonus for his efforts. So far, the current Wilson Bridge project is not going nearly as smoothly.

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