Opinion: Legion Bridge Is More Than a Route to Va. It’s an Expressway to the Middle Class

Traffic on the Capital Beltway near the American Legion Bridge. WTOP News photo by Dave Dildine.

By Dennis L. Martire

The writer is vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, representing 40,000 workers predominantly in the construction industry in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. 

Legislation now pending in Congress – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework – will inject desperately needed investment into the backbone of our nation by rebuilding roads, modernizing our energy systems, upgrading water resources and more.

Equally important is that the legislation will create good, family-supporting jobs – and that’s something Marylanders can be proud of already being on the road to accomplishing through the American Legion Bridge redevelopment project.

Maryland officials recently took a major step toward replacing the nearly 60-year-old bridge and upgrading highway lanes north of the structure by contracting for project planning and design. But even more, they have taken a stand to make sure such transportation projects do not only provide traffic relief, but also economic relief in the form of family-sustaining jobs for the state’s working people.

Both state officials and a consortium of companies moved forward with project planning when the Maryland Board of Public Works voted to sign onto the use of a so-called “community benefits agreement” for construction.

Such agreements typically require payment of locally prevailing wages, health care benefits, training requirements and safety protections, as well as mandating the use of local and minority workers and contractors. The agreements do not only encourage first-class construction, they also help support the development of family-supporting, lifelong careers for workers and a skilled labor pool for employers.

The project, valued at an estimated $6 billion, would create an estimated 7,500 construction jobs. Making these jobs good jobs only adds to the positive economic impact of bridge and highway construction.

A study in nearby Virginia found that every $2 billion in bridge and highway construction stimulates more than double the amount expended on goods and services, spurring the creation of thousands of other jobs outside of construction. Those benefits do not include productivity and savings to motorists, who struggle with severe congestion on 15% of roadways, resulting in lost time, wasted gas, pollution and higher car repair costs.

Like the infrastructure legislation in Congress, the Board of Public Works approval is bipartisan, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan backing the project alongside Democrat Comptroller Peter Franchot.

This is an example of how to do infrastructure the right way. It provides positive impacts for the people who build it, and for those who will use it. In addition to the community benefits agreement, tolls in the new lanes would be capped and car-poolers exempt.

Franchot deserves a salute for insisting on broad participation on the project through the use of a strong community benefits agreement. As Gov. Hogan said in backing the project, it is “transformative.”

The project is a step toward a new vision for rebuilding our communities and state in a way that prioritizes working men and women. It will not only be a sorely needed, traffic-busting modern bridge and roadway – it will also be a path to strengthen the middle class.