Virginia, Maryland join forces to build new American Legion Bridge

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The governors of Virginia and Maryland signed a $1 billion pact to “relieve congestion at one of the country’s worst traffic chokepoints” by building a new, wider American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River.

The project, to be done with public-private partnership programs both states have in place, includes the addition of tolled express lanes on the bridge and for about three miles in either direction, from the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia to the vicinity of River Road in Maryland.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the deal Tuesday during the annual Capital Regional Transportation Forum.

“Our teams have identified a way to fix one of the worst traffic hot spots in the country,” said Northam, a Democrat. “This demonstrates what can get done when leaders come together to find shared solutions to tough regional problems."

The eight-lane American Legion Bridge has operated beyond its capacity for nearly four decades, according to state officials. Daily traffic has grown 390% since the bridge opened in 1962, with 235,000 vehicles currently using it daily.

The new bridge will have a total of 12 lanes, two of which will be express lanes in each direction.

The project is expected to cut commuting time in half for some travelers by providing 40% more lane capacity over the old bridge and reducing congestion in the non-tolled regular lanes, according to state officials. The project will include bicycle and pedestrian paths across the Potomac River.

Hogan, a Republican, said the project will spur economic growth for the Washington metropolitan region.

“A bipartisan, commonsense, interstate agreement such as this has eluded elected leaders throughout the region for many decades,” Hogan said.

The project is seen as vital because more than 40% of the region’s population travels this segment of the Capital Beltway, where an additional 1.2 million people are expected to live by 2040.

The new bridge will be built with public-private partnerships “to reduce the need for public funding and [to] shift key traffic and construction risks to the private sector,” the states said in a joint release.

The governors said they have agreed to a bi-state funding plan to accelerate the improvements, including the infrastructure needed for connections between the George Washington Parkway and MD-190/River Road.

Neither state responded to requests for comment about whether bonds will be issued to cover costs.

Maryland owns 79% of the bridge, and will pay all the cost of building the southbound express and general purpose lanes. On the bridge, the state will pay 79% of the new general purpose lanes and half the cost of the express lanes.

Virginia will pay all costs for the northbound express and general purpose lanes, half the cost of the express lanes on the bridge, and 21% of cost for the bridge’s general purpose lanes.

Not everyone was pleased with project, particularly the addition of tolled express lanes commonly referred to as Lexus Lanes.

“The only winners from this plan are the P3 financiers and the few wealthy drivers who can afford to pay $40 tolls every day,” said Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition chair Ben Ross. “Everyone else will sit in traffic jams, otherwise drivers won't be willing to pay the high tolls the P3 financiers need to make a profit.”

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Public-private partnership Transportation industry Ralph Northam State of Virginia State of Maryland Virginia Maryland Washington DC