By Carla Branch and Rebecca Newsham
With a twist of a large wrench, Virginia Republican Senator John Warner slid the last bolt into place and completed the construction of the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
“It’s not a bridge to nowhere; it’s a bridge to everywhere,” Warner said. “This project has been a model of what can happen when people work together. We have thanked the elected and appointed officials who made this project possible but we also need to thank the most important people who made it possible, the taxpayers.”
Construction on the new bridge began in 2000 after the Federal Highway Administration reached an agreement with the City of Alexandria to settle a lawsuit over the project. The first span opened to traffic in 2006 and has already begun to ease congestion. This new six lane span, which was dedicated on Thursday, will open to traffic on the weekend of May 30. However, even with that opening, there will only be six total lanes of traffic on the bridge until the fall when the interchanges will be complete. The entire project will be complete in 2012 or 2013, at a cost of $2.5 billion.
Pomp and Circumstance
The dedication took place in the center of the new span between Maryland and Virginia, “in the 400 square yards of the bridge that belong to Washington, D.C.,” said City Administrator Dan Tangerlini, who represented D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.
The first car to cross the new span was President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine, carrying Warner, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and U. S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. The color guard was comprised of high school students from Maryland and Virginia, and the Oxon Hill High School Marching Band and the T. C. Williams High School Choir performed The National Anthem. The 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard executed a flyover.
When the project began, Peters was the administrator of FHWA. “The new Woodrow Wilson Bridge adds capacity to one of the most congested interstate bottlenecks in the country. This project will go a long way in keeping traffic – and tempers – in check. It also serves as a reminder to communities everywhere that wheel-gripping congestion does not have to be the status quo,” she said.
Kaine used the dedication as an opportunity to encourage the General Assembly to take a lesson from the spirit of compromise that made the project possible. “Our success today on the Wilson Bridge is a reminder of what we can accomplish when we work together with a united purpose,” he said.
O’Malley agreed. “The new Wilson Bridge is much more than concrete and steel. It is a symbol of partnership and cooperation between our federal, state and local governments, and a tribute to what we can accomplish as a people when we come together around a common goal,” he said.
To maximize efficiency and safety, the new bridge will ultimately feature local and long-distance lanes. Initially, just the local lanes will open because major work remains on the long-distance lanes. Following the traffic switch later this month, the new bridge will carry Inner Loop traffic in three lanes, while the bridge that opened to two-way traffic in 2006 will revert to carrying three lanes of Outer Loop traffic. The long-distance lanes are scheduled to be finished this fall, providing an additional two lanes in each direction.
The bridge is also Metro-ready. There is a local/express design configuration throughout the Bridge corridor which could provide a barrier between highway and rail traffic. Also, the structure is strong enough to support rail transit loads. The bridge is wide enough to accommodate the Metrorail “footprint” and space has been reserved in the draw span for equipment that would be necessary for the operation of Metrorail. There is also conduit in the drawbridge piers for future train controls, communications and traction power systems. There is no funding plan for Metrorail on the Bridge but the Sierra Club has already begun lobbying local, state and federal officials.
For more information on the project and upcoming traffic impact, visit http://www.wilsonbridge.com/