AFTER A good three decades of surveys, reports, maps, charts, pleadings and catatonic state administrations, Greater Washington has yet to begin addressing in earnest its ever-worsening transportation problems. Proposals have piled up to the point where too many elected officials simply look at total price tags, declare them out of sight and hope some other jurisdiction will do something. Yet certain major projects can and should be undertaken immediately, while the region gets the rest of its transportation act together:
The Woodrow Wilson bridge replacement is one big job that actually may begin, preferably before the weak existing span has to be closed to heavy traffic. But what about additional Potomac River crossings outside the Beltway? Robert Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance notes that while other comparable jurisdictions in the country have built several new river crossings per decade over the past 30 years, this region has added no major bridges.
It's not for a lack of proposals; in the 1960s regional planners recognized a need for five additional crossings. In 1966, the Year 2000 Plan included three: a northern crossing connecting Fairfax and Montgomery counties as part of a "second circumferential" that would also have a southern crossing between Fairfax and Prince George's, and a western connection between Loudoun and Montgomery as part of an outer beltway.
Since then, Mr. Chase notes, the region has added more than 700,000 households, more than 1.2 million jobs and nearly 1.4 million people. Without bridges and suburb-to-suburb parkways, growth has spread outward in various directions, with 55 percent of the region's population now living outside the Capital Beltway. By 2020 the figure is estimated at 63 percent. Relief? Build a Northern Techway Connector, as supported by a number of groups including the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade. This would link the Dulles/Reston area directly with Rockville/Gaithersburg, with a river crossing that would eliminate the I-270-to-Capital Beltway-American Legion Bridge-to-Dulles Corridor commute for tens of thousands of commercial and individual vehicles.
Sensible -- but reportedly nowhere to be found in the latest draft of the Northern Virginia 2020 report commissioned by Gov. Gilmore. Transportation experts have pointed out that this project could be built by 2010, financed in large part by tolls on the Techway Bridge. The project, along with recommendations for more river crossings, ought to be included in the 2020 plan.
In Maryland, it has been decades since officials first recognized the need for an east-west parkway between the I-270 and I-95 areas, Gov. Glendening was once a supporter, but he now looks the other way. Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Prince George's County Executive Wayne Curry have not given up, however. Mr. Duncan continues to speak often as a strong advocate of more and better mass transit, including an outer rapid-rail line linking suburban employment centers around the region.
But in Annapolis, as in Richmond, session after session adjourns without a big push from the governor for these specific major transportation projects. Between the two capitals, meanwhile, the congestion grows worse by the day.