One Done, One Still To Go

One Done, One Still To Go

South Span will carry two-way traffic through 2008.

It was entitled "Uniting The States." But the real rallying call seemed to have been what it has been all along -- "On-time and On-budget."

To make the point Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr., repeated it three times like he was leading a cheer. He also referred to his and Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine's roles as "Marketers In Chiefs."

The occasion for all this self recognition was the dedication of the first span of the new dual span Woodrow Wilson Bridge --- a $2.4 billion project designed and constructed to alleviate traffic congestion on the present bridge which was opened in 1961. It will officially open to limited traffic flow on June 9.

But, some 70 feet below the nearly 1400 dignitaries and spectators assembled near the draw span portion of the new colossus, a more restrictive human factor of the nine year bridge project was silently taking place unnoticed by the crowd. It was the closing of Jones Point Road on May 18, the day of the celebration.

According to Virginia Department of Transportation spokespersons, closing Jones Point Road, which parallel's the existing old bridge, is necessary for safety reasons allied with the demolition of that structure. That effort is scheduled to commence sometime after July 4, according to VDOT.

Vehicular traffic on the road is now limited to construction personnel. All others wishing to use Jones Point Park or the river fishing areas near the bridge will have to park at Hunting Towers and walk. Pedestrians and bicycles will be allowed along the road on a very narrow path.

Highlight of the dedication ceremony was the symbolic meeting and handshakes at the center of the draw span by Governors Kaine and Ehrlich joined by U.S.Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams. That was followed by the four climbing into President Woodrow Wilson's 1923 Rolls Royce and being driven to the speakers stage.

"It is fitting that the name of Woodrow Wilson continues to be the name of this new bridge. This year marks his 150th birthday," said Red Capka, acting administrator, Federal Highway Administration, serving as master of ceremonies. He also acknowledged that former Alexandria Mayor Frank Mann, who was present at the dedication of the existing bridge in 1961, was in the audience.

A NUMBER OF descendants of America's 28th President were present for the ceremony. The original bridge was named in 1956 as part of the centennial of Wilson's birth on December 28.

"This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System. It would be all to easy to say that that system is complete. But, the commuters who wait to cross this bridge know that our work is not done," said Mineta.

"The highway system of the 50's is not meeting the needs of today. Congestion is not only costing us 2.3 billion gallons of fuel, but also the single most threat to our way of life," he stated.

"This bridge shows us that great things can happen when we all work together. One hundred billion dollars worth of America's National Gross Product crosses this bridge every year," Mineta said, ending with another declaration of "On-time and on-budget."

Kaine told the crowd, "This region is like no other in the world. This bridge has not been easy, fast or inexpensive. Transportation is not my priority as governor. It is the priority of Virginians."

EHRLICH WAS FAR less regional in his remarks. "This will be a great boon to Maryland and particularly Prince George's County. It will speed visitors to National Harbor now taking shape on the shores of the Potomac just on the Maryland side of this new bridge," he said.

"I am proud of Maryland's management role in keeping this mega project on-time and on-budget. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, just like the Intercounty Connector, will be key to unclogging our transportation network," Ehrlich insisted.

However, some traffic experts have predicted that its bottleneck easing effect will be shortlived, if realized at all. They have maintained that the real solution is a partial outer beltway to the southeast along the route of U.S.301 in Maryland connecting with Interstate 95 well to the south of the Washington area. Maryland has resisted that proposal.

Ehrlich's more parochial assessment was echoed by Williams who hailed the bridge as a vital link between Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor and the development of Anocostia, the home of the new baseball stadium for The Nationals.

Prior to the commencement of the formal dedication ceremony there was a brief flyover by the U.S.Air Force Blue Angles. Following remarks by the four principals, each was given a large set of silver painted scissors to cut the dedication ribbon.

At the close of the official proceeding members of the local congressional delegation were asked to come to the stage to give remarks. Leading off the group was U.S. Senator John Warner (R-VA).

Joining the celebration throng were Alexandria Mayor William Euille, members of Alexandria City Council, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerald Connolly, the staff of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, and local civic leaders who have played a variety of roles pertaining to the bridge's construction impact on Alexandria and Mount Vernon District.