- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

First, let's commend the Prince George's County police officers who nabbed on Wednesday a New Jersey man who had been a fugitive for nearly two weeks after being charged with the stabbing death of his wife.

Second, let's accept with suspicion the apologies of Jeffrey R. Thomas, the 42-year-old suspect, for inconveniencing motorists who found themselves in a five-mile backup during his 90-minute standoff with officers on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Third, let's actually do something about traffic in this region.

We've been down this gridlocked road before, and the traffic report is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Remember the Alexandria man who, in the midst of a domestic dispute in 1998, held police at bay for 5½ hours until they shot him with a beanbag and he fell 75 feet into the Potomac River?

You've got to be prepared. Take my advice, buy a carton of bottled water, stockpile some healthy snacks, load up on audio books and, above all, make sure you've got a full tank of gas and a cell phone. Young and old, heed your mama's warning: Go to the bathroom before you leave home or the office.

Lately, the Washington-area rush hour has become a steady stream of steamy, sticky traffic.

Courtesy of Mr. Thomas' standoff around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Interstates 95, 395 and 495 and any nearby alternate route looked as they do at the height of rush-hour during winter blizzards.

But Mr. Thomas and the like are not the only culprits who have created traffic jams that those of us who were born in this once-sleepy, Southern town never thought imaginable. We also can thank unchecked growth, outdated transportation plans and an unexpected economic boom, to name a few.

As a result, Washington-area drivers now spend two days a year in traffic, based on the Potomac Index study released this week by the Greater Washington Board of Trade. You just can't get anywhere fast anytime.

I don't know about you, but I can think of more pressing uses of my time not to mention the number of things "I'd rather be [doing]," as those tacky bumper stickers read.

Traffic congestion is one issue facing everyone in this region, regardless of where you live, who you are or what you do. Nearly 65 percent of those surveyed for the Potomac Index said gridlock has a serious impact on their quality of life. How we get out of this jam is another matter.

For example, one thing regional leaders will be forced to tackle is the critical shortage of affordable housing close to the District.

Each jurisdiction and regional planners with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have studied this issue to death. Meanwhile, we sit and creep and crawl and creep and sit some more.

Money alone won't fix it. We cannot build our way out of this mess. But the political fighting must come to a dead end.

D.C. officials bemoan the lack of a reciprocal commuter tax for maintaining roads worn out by suburbanites.

Marylanders continue to haggle over the much-needed Intercounty Connector.

Maryland and Virginia are still waging a civil war over where a new bridge across the Potomac River should be built.

Northern Virginians may see a welcome sight, now that Gov. Mark R. Warner a Northern Virginia homie has persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to give regional taxpayers a chance to vote on a referendum that would raise their sales taxes and generate $5 billion for transportation programs.

The measure, similar to one approved for the traffic-choked Tidewater area, may not be as hard a sell on beleaguered Northern Virginians as some opponents of the bill would like to believe. Passage of the plan may not be a cakewalk, either.

Now it behooves state legislators to present all the data and start a massive voter-education campaign so that the electorate can adequately determine if the half-percent sales-tax increase is the best way to fund road projects. They owe us that much since they took the cowardly referendum route, instead of making the difficult decision of finding funds in the budget.

Whether it's more public transit to placate environmentalists or more roads to placate car-loving commuters or telecommuting for the techies, leaders in Maryland, Virginia and the District cannot continue to deal with our transportation woes piecemeal.

That Wilson Bridge traffic tie-up the other day, for instance, did not stop once you crossed the Maryland border.

Keith Haller, president of the group that authored the Potomac Index, told the Associated Press its findings indicate that the majority of area residents support setting up a regional transportation authority that can redirect tax money across jurisdictional lines. They understand and want regional solutions to this regional problem.

Alice M. Rivlin remember her from the D.C. financial control board? also worked on the study and is calling for a regional transportation board.

On this score, I concur.

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