- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Local governments in the metropolitan area agreed yesterday to coordinate stoplights to help traffic flow and make commutes smoother.

But the agreement's biggest benefit will be its effect in meeting federal Clean Air Act standards so federal funds are not withheld from transit projects and road construction, said Karen Sibert, spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG).

"It's probably not going to mean much to the average driver, but drivers will be able to move at a steadier pace and with fewer stops," Miss Sibert said.

"It's a win-win. We move forward building a better transportation plan, while achieving better air quality," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of COG's Transportation Planning Board.

For example, a COG analysis shows motorists could gain about 5.2 mph in the District's 16th Street corridor and about 2.6 mph in Maryland on New Hampshire Avenue with better-timed traffic lights. Meanwhile, the plan is expected to save about 0.17 tons of nitrous oxide emissions per day.

The agreement signed yesterday by D.C., Maryland and Virginia officials after more than a year of negotiations will optimize traffic flow at 856 intersections around the region. There are 4,500 intersections with traffic lights around the metropolitan area.

COG originally planned to improve traffic flow at 1,963 intersections, and the agreement would optimize flow at less than half of those sites. Still, local officials and advocates looking to alleviate congestion already ranked as the third-worst in the nation behind Los Angeles and San Francisco said it is a good step in the right direction.

"We hoped they would have taken more action with regard to the number of lights that need improvement, but we have jurisdictions agreeing to work together," said Al Eisenberg, lobbyist for the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

The program will cost $3 million from 2003 to 2005, with other maintenance costs in later years. Virginia is expected to pick up $952,000 of the cost; Maryland will pay $840,000, and the District will cover $1.2 million.

The agreement leaves it up to jurisdictions to find ways to pay for the commitments they agreed to fulfill by 2005.

"Coordinating the timing of traffic signals along our common corridors is one of the most cost-effective ways to provide some real congestion relief for Washington-area commuters," said Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.

Bob Chase, with the advocacy group Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, said optimizing lights is one of the few real new breakthroughs the region has had. He said most of the pollution-reduction measures that the Transportation Planning Board passed involved merely compiling a list of initiatives already under way in Maryland, Virginia and the District and then claiming credit for the pollution savings.

In Northern Virginia, signals are timed to maximize traffic flow at all intersections except those in Arlington County and municipalities, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine Hanley, a Democrat and vice chairman of COG's Transportation Planning Board.

Before reaching an agreement yesterday, Maryland officials had objected to supplanting a cooperative project already under way with the District to coordinate timing and synchronizing intersections on 19 high-traffic corridors between the two jurisdictions.

"Every major corridor [between Maryland and the District] either has been done or will be done in the next 24 months," said Jack Cahalan, spokesman for Maryland's transportation department.

After getting details of Maryland's program yesterday, Mr. Eisenberg of the Board of Trade said he sees that Maryland, working with the District, is "getting more bang for the buck" by focusing on corridors to improve traffic flow and reduce emissions.

Other emissions-reduction measures approved yesterday should enable the region to meet federal standards by 2005, said COG Transportation Director Ronald F. Kirby.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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