Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III cleared away yesterday one of the final hurdles to replacing the deteriorating Woodrow Wilson Bridge by dropping his resistance to joint ownership with Maryland of the new Potomac River span.
"It means in the long run, both states have responsibility for the ownership and maintenance and control of the bridge," Gilmore said during an interview on Washington radio station WTOP. "I think it's a better approach."
The bridge, which carries Interstate 95 and Interstate 495 (the Capital Beltway) between Prince George's County and Alexandria, Va., is a vital link for Washington-area commuters and East Coast travelers.
Co-ownership of the proposed, $2.2 billion bridge has been a point of contention between the states. Because most of the structure will stand in Maryland, officials in Virginia had balked at co-ownership.
Maryland officials argued that the new bridge is critical to residents of both states and responsibility should be shared.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that Gilmore's decision was "an extraordinarily significant step forward."
The plan is likely to be signed by the governors and forwarded to federal transportation officials in the next week or so, Glendening said. The deal must be completed before any more federal money for the project can be released.
While agreeing yesterday to share ownership of the bridge, Gilmore challenged Maryland's calculations of the construction cost, suggesting it is at least $100 million too low. He based his objections on estimates supplied two weeks ago by Glendening.
In a May 24 letter to Glendening that was released yesterday, Gilmore asked Maryland to update its cost estimates "to ensure their accuracy." Gilmore wrote that he's concerned about inflation and cost overruns.
"Before entering a finance agreement, we want the best numbers possible," said Gilmore's spokeswoman, Lila White.
"How they estimate their contracts is different from how we do ours," said Valerie Edgar of Maryland's State Highway Administration. "Our estimates are conservative, and we're confident in our abilities and our estimates."
Added Glendening: "The only thing I can say is we'll do as we do for any big contract -- we constantly monitor the costs." He noted that each of the two state contracts on the project so far has come in under budget.
The financial plan calls for shared responsibility in operating and maintaining the bridge once it is completed in 2006.
Financing for the bridge includes a $1.5 billion commitment from the federal government, $200 million each from Virginia and Maryland, and $15 million from the District of Columbia.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.