Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Appendix: Case Study Profiles

14. Virginia/Maryland - Woodrow Wilson Bridge

Funding Sources and Amounts: $2.5 billion, including a Federal share of $1.6 billion

Years: 1989 (beginning of planning–2009 (bike path opening)

Agencies/Organizations Involved: A variety, including FHWA; US Army Corps of Engineers; National Park Service; Virginia, Maryland, and District of Columbia transportation agencies, and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Note: Additional organizations involved include the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; city of Alexandria, VA; Fairfax County, VA; Prince George's County, MD; State-level elected leaders from the affected region; US Fish and Wildlife Service; National Marine Fisheries Service; US Coast Guard, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, city of Alexandria and Fairfax County, VA; Virginia Department of Environmental Quality; Virginia Institute of Marine Science; Maryland Department of the Environment; Maryland Department of Natural Resources; and District of Columbia Health Department.

Geographic Area: A 7.5-mile-section that runs from west of Telegraph Road in Virginia to east of Indian Head Highway in Maryland along the I-95/495 Capital Beltway over the Potomac River.

Problem to Be Addressed

Initially designed to carry 75,000 vehicles per day, the bridge experienced traffic volumes of 195,000 vehicles per day by 2004. Consequently, heavy traffic congestion and major delays became daily occurrences on the bridge, leading to regional demands for a new and larger bridge. Excessive traffic loading also took a toll on the bridge, accelerating deterioration and raising safety concerns.

Objectives of Project

FHWA maintained the following four objectives for the project:

Protect and improve the character and nature of the surrounding environment.

Design goals focused on the bridge as a structure designed with high aesthetic values, deriving its form in relation to the monumental core of Washington, DC, and as an asset to the Nation's capital and surrounding region.

Summary of Project

Ten years into the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project development process, FHWA successfully faced the challenges of restarting the NEPA and Section 404 permitting processes while pushing ahead with construction. By assembling a highly qualified team of Federal and State project managers and environmental impact review staff, collaborating among a widespread public base, and establishing a transparent monitoring program for NEPA mitigation requirements, the bridge was successfully finished. The bridge has 10 conventional highway lanes, two lanes for future alternative transportation options, and a pedestrian/bicycle path.

Type of Funding Used for Project / Plan

Federal and State funding.

Population Served and Modes Served

Commuters traveling over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia; bikers and pedestrians.

Project Details

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Background

The new Woodrow Wilson Bridge includes 2 new, side-by-side drawbridges with 12 lanes and 70 feet of vertical navigational clearance at the draw span. Ten of the 12 lanes are conventional highway lanes,and the 2 additional lanes are for alternative transportation options that could become feasible during the 75-year life expectancy of the bridge. These options include trains, buses, HOVs, express toll-lane service, high-occupancy toll lanes, or another special purpose. The lane configuration separates local and long-distance travelers. Full shoulders are provided across the bridge. The new bridge also accommodates a pedestrian/bicycle path.

Planning and Legislative Processes

Because the Federal Government owned this aging bridge, FHWA petitioned Congress for funds to replace it, with both Maryland and Virginia being major partakers in this effort as well. FHWA led the planning for the bridge replacement, starting in 1989, and completed a final EIS in 1997. The adequacy of that statement was quickly challenged in court, but ongoing project redesigns also cast doubt on the sufficiency of the EIS to support pending Federal permitting decisions.

When the project was enjoined by the District Court for the District of Columbia, FHWA had to decide whether to appeal, comply with the court's order, or take a combination approach. This decision was complicated by the fact that the existing final EIS had already had its draft EIS supplemented twice.

Nevertheless, FHWA decided to prepare new supplemental draft and final EISs while also appealing the court's decision.

While deciding to move forward with additional impact analyses, FHWA did not change its position on the basic issue that was being litigated: selection of a 12-lane bridge as the preferred alternative in the first EIS and dismissal of a 10-lane structure for detailed analysis on the basis that 10 lanes could not meet long-term traffic capacity needs and, therefore, could not meet the purpose and need for the project. A Federal district court agreed with opponents who requested that a 10-lane bridge be analyzed in the EIS as a reasonable alternative. FHWA appealed this decision. The Court of Appeals, in reversing the lower court, agreed with FHWA's position that only the alternatives that meet the project's purpose and need must be analyzed in the EIS, and accepted as reasonable FHWA 's position that a 10-lane bridge did not meet the purpose and need. Not only did this court decision resolve a fundamental question on the design of the bridge, it set a significant national precedent in framing the scope of alternatives that need to be analyzed in an EIS.

Reaching Consensus

In addition to the challenge of addressing this litigation, FHWA had to address difficult interagency and community coordination issues given the bridge's location in two States and the District of Columbia. To address these issues, FHWA:

The 29-member Interagency Coordination Group (ICG) was created, and throughout the construction process it reviewed the status of promised mitigation measures. The Design Review Working Group was established to provide comments on the bridge design. Stakeholder participation panels identified valued community characteristics and goals, and worked with designers and planners to co-develop concepts and proposed designs that enhance and preserve the natural environment. Through this collaborative approach, FHWA reached consensus on a high-quality design for the bridge.

Through the supplemental EIS process, FHWA worked closely with resource agencies to develop broad mitigation measures. To help implement the mitigation and ease potential concerns, FHWA established an independent environmental monitor to observe and report on the completion status of all agreed-upon mitigation. FHWA complemented this monitoring approach by developing a comprehensive database, tracking, and reporting system, and made that system accessible to the regulatory agencies involved.

Multimodal Readiness

The new Woodrow Wilson Bridge is "rail-ready," meaning it has capacity for the Washington area's transit service, Metrorail, to extend its service across the bridge, connecting the Yellow Line in Virginia to the Green Line in Maryland. It was built to hold the additional weight of heavy rail cars and the strong vibrations they produce, and was created with extra space for such an installment. This option would provide a real alternative for frustrated Washington-area residents, an intelligent investment at a time of rising gas prices and growing public awareness of global warming. By making the bridge ready for an eventual transit network, FHWA streamlined the future building and planning process, paving the way for public transportation opportunities.

The bridge currently has 10 automobile lanes, and 2 lanes that await final designation as HOV, express bus lanes, or rail transit lines. One day, public transportation connections on the bridge will give an economic boost to the region as demand grows for high-quality transit service, and new growth will be possible in those areas without choking the entire area with more traffic.

A 12-foot-wide multiuse trail on the bridge allows bikers and pedestrians to travel between Alexandria, VA, and Prince George's County, MD. The trail includes three "bump-out" areas with informational displays and telescopes for taking in unique views of Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor, and Washington, DC. The barrier is separated from vehicular traffic traveling the bridge on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway (I–95/495 South).


  • How to address difficult interagency and community coordination issues given the bridge's location within 2 states and the District of Columbia.
  • How to proceed with project planning while in the midst of complex litigation surrounding NEPA violation (Section 106 of the NHPA and Section 4(f ) of the Department of Transportation Act).
  • How to ensure that FHWA would implement its complete list of requirements for project environmental mitigation.


  • FHWA assembled an experienced team of managers and consultants to address complex environmental impact questions, and reopened direct and effective communications with numerous Federal and State resource agencies. Community briefings and workshops were frequently and regularly scheduled, and achieved the goal of extensive public involvement through comprehensive efforts and use of public relations experts who crafted clear and consistent project information.
  • Through the court cases, FHWA chose to consistently maintain its position that only a 12-lane structure could meet the project's purpose and need. Rather than reopening consideration of alternatives in the draft supplemental EIS and restating the purpose and need for the project, FHWA referred the reader back to the 1997 final EIS for the purpose and need statement. In so doing, FWHA was able to focus the remaining analytical work and extensive interagency coordination around its preferred alternative. At the same time, FHWA was sensitive to both its position in the lawsuit and related and continuing questions from the public on the feasibility of a tunnel alternative. In response, FHWA undertook a more thorough and documented analysis of a tunnel alternative and shared it with the public.
  • Development of the database with the tracking system for environmental mitigation was invaluable to project development, permitting, and delivery. It became the repository of thousands of commitments and could be reviewed and updated at any time in response to project activities. It provided a method for ensuring that commitments were carried out. Furthermore, the tracking database now serves as a record of the mitigation process, and is the basis for accurate and efficient reporting to permitting agencies and other interested organizations.

Livability Principles Promoted by Project investment

Promotion Livability Principles
F Increase transportation choices
P Promote affordable housing
  Enhance economic competitiveness
  Support existing communities
P Coordinate Federal policies and leverage investment
  Value communities and neighborhoods

P: Partly Supports
F: Fully Supports

Perspectives on Implementing the Project and Its Impacts

Project Status

As of early 2010, the status of the project is as follows:

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail opened for public use in June 2009. The bridge opened for traffic in May 2008.

Applicability of Lessons Learned to Other Projects or Challenges

Roles of MPOs / DOTs and Policy / Plan Outcomes

Replacement of the bridge involved a broad mix of authorities. Unlike more traditional intrastate highway projects where the affected State's DOT took the lead role in completing the NEPA document, FHWA led preparation of the supplement because it owned the old bridge and bridge improvements; the interchanges were State-owned but 100 percent federally funded. In addition to FHWA, VDOT was another sponsoring agency for the supplement. Later on in the project timeframe, the Project Leadership Team was formed, consisting of high-level officials from FHWA, MSHA, VDOT, and District of Columbia Department of Public Works (DCDPW). The team's role was to provide strategic decisionmaking, policy direction, and performance review.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Steering Committee also acted to include the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project in TIP funding for FY2006–2011 and FY2007–2012.

For More Information

Sources and Other Resources:

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 10/20/2015
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000