As the metropolitan area's economy expands, the demands on local transportation facilities grow. Even now, the roads, bridges and mass transit components of our transportation system are approaching capacity. In the surrounding jurisdictions, there may be room to add capacity, although this approach to growing transportation needs is limited and ultimately not a solution.

In the District, our situation precludes additional capacity on most roadways. We, like other urban areas, are a built environment, largely residential. To expand roadway capacity without regard to the effects on neighborhoods is not acceptable. Our greatest challenge for the coming years is therefore to provide efficient travel through our city, while minimizing negative effects on our neighborhoods.

There are two obvious solutions to this dilemma. Other jurisdictions with less direct traffic effects on neighborhoods than the District have experimented with traffic calming systems on certain residential streets to deter infiltration of commuter traffic. These experiments have been only partially successful. In the District, our first task must be to make travel on our major roadways as easy as possible. Only then will the traveling public resist the temptation to use local streets through our neighborhoods.

To accomplish this task, our traffic-signal system must be as efficient as possible. A major effort is underway to upgrade our system to use the latest technology. Electronic coordination and central control of signals and electronic highway signs are two such advances, with other traffic management solutions to follow.

In addition to a modern, efficient traffic control system, the physical condition of the roadways and bridges must be as good as possible. For several years, the District has strived to repair its roads and bridges, thereby removing obstacles to efficient travel. It is unfortunate, but with the much-needed repairs comes inconvenience during construction. It is expected that within two years, most of the infrastructure deficiencies that have plagued the District over the past few years will be corrected.

Although the prospects of better travel through the District are good, the continued growth in the region may well outstrip the efforts to improve existing transportation systems. Telecommuting and greater reliance on mass transit are two obvious approaches to the coming reality. Others as yet undefined must develop if the transportation system in the region is to continue to reasonably serve the needs of the traveling public.

--Vanessa Dale Burns

is director of the District of Columbia Department of Public Works.