- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Business, civic and government leaders in the Washington area are working to end regional divisions with a multimillion-dollar long-term planning effort.

Although the region’s economy is booming, disagreements among the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government are undermining progress, planners say.

The region leads the nation in job growth and is expected to add 2 million residents and 1.6 million jobs by 2030.

“If we are to maintain the appeal of the region to workers and businesses and maintain the quality of life, there is a strong belief that we have to get better aligned on how we want that to happen,” said George Vradenburg, a retired America Online executive who is helping to lead the discussions.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region have been meeting for the past three months. They hope their boards will approve the plan by the fall, then raise money and get other major players to participate, including the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of Washington.

The group’s discussions mirror the divisions it is trying to overcome. Some members want to focus exclusively on traffic and housing costs, which are big issues in Northern Virginia. Others think the group should address struggling schools in the District and relatively low job growth in Prince George’s County.

The issues are related in many ways, some participants argue. For example, the imbalance of jobs in the region makes the westbound Capital Beltway congested on weekday mornings.

“This region, while growing and prosperous, is very divided along race and class lines, and this project, if it is to succeed, has to bridge that divide,” said Alice M. Rivlin, a Brookings Institution researcher and former chairman of the D.C. financial control board.

Organizers hope the business, government and nonprofit sectors will share the cost, expected to be at least $2 million.

Efforts in other regions have resulted in varying degrees of success, said John Fregonese, a Portland, Ore.-based urban planner who has worked on Washington’s effort and others.

A plan in Utah, which began in 1997, is credited with shaping several communities and building support for a light-rail system. Exercises in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn., have been less successful, Mr. Fregonese said.

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