DISTRICT of Columbia residents should welcome the announcement by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner last week of a $19 million road grant for the District and his pledge to work with Mayor-elect Sharon Pratt Dixon to improve the city's streets and bridges. There is no question that the money can be put to important use -- starting with replacement of the cracked and crumbly John Philip Sousa Bridge over the Anacostia River. But better still, if this move marks a return to a solid working relationship between the District Building and the federal government -- the kind of understanding that has existed in the past and always should -- that's a relief.

The District has been shortchanged by the federal government in all sorts of ways during recent years, most notably in the annual federal payment to the city. It isn't that the District is begging for handouts instead of raising big revenues from its own taxpayers. The federal government's presence here -- and the costs associated with this presence -- argue clearly for compensation. Still, the election of a new mayor who campaigned on a pledge to make the city government's operations more efficient does make it politically easier for the administration and Congress to fulfill federal obligations to the District. In recent years, no matter how honestly and effectively certain federally assisted projects may have been administered by the city government, awarding federal grants to the government of Marion Barry, mayor in trouble, was not easy to explain to the rest of America.

For now, we hope that Mayor-elect Dixon is right in characterizing this transportation assistance as "a magnificent beginning to a new kind of partnership that serves the District of Columbia well." Other cabinet officials are welcome to jump in anytime.