- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The top elected officials of the District, Maryland and Virginia yesterday agreed to develop a more regional approach to handling road hazards, potholes, accidents and creating a new transportation funding strategy.
   D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, both Democrats, and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said they want to develop a national capital investment strategy for road infrastructure improvements.
   “We want to be able to do something like the Olympic bid going to the federal government as a region instead of separately,” Mr. Williams said.
    The three elected officials met to discuss regional approaches to several topics, including emergency preparedness, tourism, homeland security, transportation and air quality.
   It was the first time leaders from the three jurisdictions have met for a general discussion in 12 years and the first of what will become a series of quarterly meetings on regional issues.
   Mr. Warner, who led the meeting’s transportation agenda, said plans include looking at ways to share dollars for road improvements and regional efforts to remove “broken down” vehicles from commuter roads during rush hour using state police and transportation workers.
   “I think we have made great progress on [improving transportation] and incident management during an emergency, but we are still learning,” Mr. Warner said.
   He said the region has had several opportunities to learn since the evacuation chaos that ensued after the September 11 attacks.
   “We had to shut down sections of Interstate 95 during the manhunt for the Washington-area sniper, and we have learned some things from the ‘tractor man’ in the District,” Mr. Warner said.
   Last month a North Carolina farmer protesting reduced government subsidies for tobacco growers held the city hostage for two days by driving a tractor into a pool in the Mall’s Constitution Gardens causing the shutdown of Constitution Avenue, a major east-west thoroughfare.
   Mr. Williams said he informed his two colleagues that tourism also should be looked at from a regional approach. He said the city already is looking at ways to include Maryland and Virginia in the openings of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex at Washington Dulles International Airport, and the World War II Memorial next year.
   Building the Intercounty Connector and a new Potomac River bridge crossing were among Mr. Ehrlich’s greatest concerns.
   Mr. Warner said he has earmarked close to $1 million to fund location and feasibility studies for a new Potomac River crossing between Maryland and Virginia an initiative Mr. Ehrlich said he will support “100 percent.”
    “It will be a joint issue from planning to execution as it should have been from the beginning,” Mr. Ehrlich said, casting some disdain for the handling of the new Wilson bridge project by former Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.
   There was great division between Mr. Glendening and former Virginia Govs. George Allen and James S. Gilmore III, both Republicans, about constructing a larger 12-lane Wilson bridge crossing the Potomac.
   Mr. Ehrlich also said more roads would ease traffic congestion and help to improve the regional air quality by “keeping cars moving.”
   “Convenience, lifestyle and quality of life are the major issues. People are tired of traffic. In Montgomery and Prince George’s and throughout Maryland [traffic congestion] is a major issue,” Mr. Ehrlich said.
   The region has a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency to improve its air quality by 2005 or suffer cuts in federal transportation dollars.
   “We don’t want what happened in Atlanta to happen here, where we lose federal dollars and have to rely solely on our limited resources to deal with our regional transportation problems,” Mr. Warner said.
   He said the three jurisdictions have agreed to hold a series of joint meetings for their environmental officials before another summit is held at the end of the summer.
   “We’ll meet then and then do a scorecard to see what progress we’ve made,” Mr. Ehrlich said.



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