- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2000

Gridlock is a regional problem and will require a regional solution. This fact is not one recognized, apparently, by Maryland lawmakers who on Thursday rejected a proposal put forward by Virginia lawmakers to form a regional commission to study transportation needs and propose coordinated solutions. Once again, the anti-growth agenda of Maryland Governor Parris Glendening held sway. Maryland has prohibitive "anti-sprawl" land-use restrictions that have stymied plans to build either an outer Beltway or a new bridge to cross the Potomac in Montgomery County. The bridge would connect Maryland's outlying counties with the high-tech Dulles corridor a boon to economic growth that would also ameliorate some of the paralytic traffic inside the Beltway. Unfortunately, the sticks-in-the-mud won the day.

"We were very concerned that this was going to be a vehicle to deliver a bridge" over the Potomac, said Montgomery Democratic Rep. William A. Bronrott. Maryland has long opposed efforts to build a new span over the Potomac which is now crossable at just two "choke points" the American Legion Bridge and the Wilson Bridge. Opposition to the proposed third bridge doesn't make a great deal of sense, however as its construction would not only ease traffic congestion on the Wilson and Legion bridges, but obviate the need for many motorists to drive around the Beltway to get to one or the other of those two spans. John Kane, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade's Transportation and Environment Committee called Maryland's refusal to even consider the idea, or the regional transportation commission, "an outrage." Indeed it is.

Some Maryland lawmakers understand the need to deal with transportation concerns by doing something as opposed to pretending there's no problem and all will be well if we just sit tight. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, for example, supported the idea of forming the proposed commission. "Anytime you look at transportation solutions, it's a good thing," he said. Mr. Duncan is not necessarily a supporter of the bridge idea, but he's not willing to shut the door on all discussion, either. "You don't kill the bigger study because of one little piece of it," he said, referring to the contentious bridge issue. Somewhere, something has got to give.

* CAN FIAT SURVIVE GM's EMBRACE? Arguably, the kindest thing that could have happened to General Motors would have been a trip to bankruptcy court in the early 1990s the last time the company came really close to the abyss. Instead, GM is sloshing into the 21st century with seven full-line divisions that overlap and compete with each other.

The recent acquisition by GM of a 20 percent stake in Fiat's automotive unit for $2.4 billion (with an option to buy the rest later) is merely the latest chin-scratcher. Why at a time when GM's share of the worldwide automobile market is slipping with each passing quarter, when there is an acknowledged glut of cars and car models, when keeping track of the kudzu-like proliferation of brands it already has to deal with seems an impossible task would the company commit itself to an involvement with yet another far-flung "partner"?

Investors are not sanguine about the prospects. Reuters reported on March 14 that Fiat suffered one of the worst one day plunges in the value of its stock with shares down 8.1 percent at 32.65 euros at mid-session following announcement of the deal.

Maybe GM will pull out of what looks more and more like the beginnings of a death spiral. Maybe Fiat will survive. Who knows. GM still makes several excellent cars (the current Corvette, the new DeVille DTS) and some great engines (the 3.8 family of V-6 engines; the Northstar V-8s). Too bad these engineering achievements are so easily lost in the vast sea of anomie and drift that increasingly characterizes today's General Motors.

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