Name a complex issue with social, political or economic implications and chances are a commission has been appointed to study it.
Taxes. Crime. Public education. Race relations. Workers compensation. You name it and a commission has produced a report with its findings and recommendations on the subject.
Not surprisingly then, area business leaders are calling for a commission on transportation in the region.
In response to an initiative by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, local business leaders have drafted a resolution calling for establishment of a joint legislative commission on interstate transportation. Legislation establishing the panel would be introduced when the Maryland and Virginia general assemblies convene next year.
The commission would be composed of the secretary of transportation from each state, the co-chairs of House committees on appropriations, transportation and interstate cooperation, and the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate finance committees.
There is no mention of the District in the draft but James Dyke, chairman of the Fairfax Chamber, offered assurances that that oversight would be corrected.
Still, it's difficult to imagine how anyone would be concerned about interstate transportation problems in the region without considering the District's role in the scheme of things.
The idea is to "get the legislators in the same room and have a dialogue . . . get people to know one another," Dyke explained.
But according to the draft resolution, as an advisory body to the governors of the two states (and presumably the mayor of the District) the commission would "identify opportunities for and barriers to improved transportation links" in the region.
Generally speaking, the proposal is both sound and timely, and probably should have been adopted at least 30 years ago.
Calling the advisory panel a commission, however, may not be such a good idea, given the connotation of an all-powerful transit commission with authority to tax residents or highway users in all three jurisdictions.
Might there be some duplication of mission or authority that currently lies with Metro, for example?
Dyke nonetheless insists the commission would only be a legislative advisory panel, "not to tax anybody but to engage in a dialogue in order to deal with the traffic situation. The thought is not to create another layer but to have dialogue in order to deal with the traffic situation.
"This is an opportunity for us to seize the moment in a big-picture, positive kind of way," Dyke continued. "We thought that, if driven by the business community, [the legislative initiative] would make it easier for people to communicate and for us to get the elected officials to realize we need to do this on a regional basis."
At the heart of the argument being advanced by business leaders is their assertion that key transportation improvement needs in the region -- new and expanded bridge crossings, mass transit expansion and the enhancement of the regional road network -- "are interstate in nature and will require cooperation" among officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Business leaders cite estimates indicating the daily volume of traffic crossing existing bridges in the region will be 400,000 vehicle trips above design capacity by the year 2020. They further claim that residents in the Washington region currently have the highest per-capita income losses attributed to traffic problems. Residents pay nearly $1,260 per capita in costs associated with congestion, according to those estimates.
Although the numbers may have been inflated, it's fair to say that both the economy and quality of life in the region are adversely affected by traffic congestion.
Still, neither business leaders nor public officials seem to get it. Constructing new bridge crossings, widening the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to 12 lanes, or even 24, and building another Beltway are not silver-bullet solutions to the problem. Neither are half-baked proposals for limited intra-jurisdictional extensions of Metro.
The traffic problem in metropolitan Washington is a land-use problem, made worse by the refusal or reluctance of public officials and business leaders to do a better job of planning, zoning and locating residential and commercial projects.
In short, each jurisdiction needs to do a better job of coordinating residential and commercial construction with transportation systems, and reducing sprawl by making better use of existing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, someone obviously has to pay the piper for any major new transportation projects in the region. And with Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) staking his political future on a no-new-taxes mantra, the proposed joint commission on interstate transportation has its work cut out.