- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

For the second consecutive year, D.C. officials plan to test part of the city’s emergency evacuation plan after the Independence Day fireworks display on the Mall.

Last year’s test was solely a local event, but this year, city officials are working with traffic engineers and police in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland to see whether huge crowds can be moved out of the city quickly and smoothly in an emergency.

“We’re working to test routes across the Potomac River and up into Maryland through both Prince George’s and Montgomery counties,” said Michelle L. Pourciau, acting director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

Officials already have planned some adjustments based on last year’s test, including making timing adjustments and placing officers to direct traffic at some intersections.

“Last year, there were a few signals that didn’t work, so we learned that where emergency evacuation routes intersect, there is something special that we need to do,” Miss Pourciau said.

DDOT also is working with National Park Service maintenance crews to make sure that some of the snow fencing used to define access points to the Mall before the fireworks is removed to give pedestrians more routes toward Metro stations.

DDOT is retiming 98 traffic signals in the city.

The Virginia Department of Transportation, which has been regulating traffic after the fireworks display for more than a decade, will adjust up to 1,500 signals along major corridors.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has supplied D.C. traffic engineers with the traffic control software it uses to improve coordination with its engineers.

“We have traffic cameras up all around the border, and we’ll be monitoring the traffic coming out of the district,” said Tom Pogue, a spokesman for Montgomery County’s Department of Public Works.

The department also will use its airplane to monitor traffic flow from three other fireworks events in the county, Mr. Pogue said.

More than 500,000 people typically attend the annual fireworks display on the Mall.

The DDOT test is expected to last at least one hour, with police and emergency vehicles prepared to respond quickly to accidents, disabled vehicles and other problems that might stall traffic.

“There will be a surge of tourists leaving the District occurring even as thousands of people who spent the holidays elsewhere are returning home,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

An auto club projection suggested that as many as 629,000 residents of the national capital region will travel 50 miles or more away from the area during the holiday period.

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