Virginia studies Potomac crossing but doesn't promise bridge

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Photo - The Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River (Examiner file photo)
The Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Virginia officials are studying traffic crossing the Potomac River, but they are not promising Washington-area commuters a new bridge between the Old Dominion and Maryland.

"We're going to take it one step at a time," Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton told The Washington Examiner. "We are going to be looking at the existing facilities and their ability to handle [traffic], but we're not going to get into any actual proposals or projects that could actually alleviate [it]," he said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, with support from Maryland and the District, is funding a study of the daily traffic crossing the Potomac River, from Point of Rocks to Route 301.

"Everyone agrees that we're facing capacity problems regarding river crossings, so we just want to come up with data that we can all agree to regarding what those challenges are today and in the future," Connaughton said.

Ron Kirby, a planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said the study is a first step toward finding a solution to chronic congestion near the American Legion Bridge on the Beltway and other choke points.

"It's certainly very worthwhile, but obviously it's not going to be enough in and of itself to indicate whether a new bridge would be justified," he said.

If Virginia officials decide to build a new bridge, they're unlikely to get support from Maryland, which favors expanding existing crossings.

"MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River," Darrell Mobley, acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, wrote to Connaughton in October. "We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings. ... We believe that exploring the concept of additional crossings of the Potomac at this time could create unrealistic expectations."

Both Maryland and Virginia would have to scrape together currently nonexistent funds for a big-dollar item such as a Potomac bridge.

A state budget analyst recently warned Maryland's General Assembly that in five years the state won't have enough money to maintain its current roads and bridges, let alone build new ones. In Virginia, state and local officials say their backlog of road projects is already running into the billions, and in just a few years they won't have money to build more.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner