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D.C. blocks regional coordination effort
(Published September 19, 2005)

By LAURA PETERSEN
Staff Writer

D.C. officials are blocking an effort by other local governments to coordinate regional transportation-related communications in the event of major emergencies that require quick evacuation of the nation's capital.

Officials at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments say the lack of coordination between regional transportation departments and other agencies during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the "tractor man" incident on the National Mall demonstrated the need for an established means of sharing information across the National Capital Region.

But the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT) is opposing a proposed regional transportation coordination program that is supported by Virginia's and Maryland's Departments of Transportation.

And D.C. City Councilman Phil Mendelson, who chairs the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, told The Common Denominator that he plans to vote against the program, dubbed "CapCom," at the board's Sept. 21 meeting because the program has not been fully funded.

"CapCom" would coordinate transportation information for the region so that in the case of an emergency first responders and the public would be diverted to alternate routes to avoid serious traffic jams.

Both Maryland and Virginia want to take advantage of funds available right now and are prepared to vote in favor of the program, according to Ronald Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. D.C. Transportation Director Daniel Tangherlini has expressed reservations about long-term funding for the program, Kirby said.

"We just want to make sure it is efficient and is not duplicative of existing systems," said Bill Rice, a spokesman for Tangherlini's department.

Initial funding for CapCom includes a $1 million sub-grant from the Urban Areas Security Initiative in the Department of Homeland Security and a $2 million one-time earmark pending in a House bill, Kirby said. Long-term funding for the program would most likely have to come from the region's respective transportation departments.

Michelle Pourciau, deputy director of the DDOT, has voiced support in meetings during the past few years for DDOT funding the program, according to Dennis Jaffe, who chairs the Citizens' Advisory Committee for the Transportation Planning Board. Jaffe said that Tangherlini did not say he was against it until April of this year.

"The right officials are not having the right conversations with the right people," Jaffe complained.

A July 20 work session was called to help get everyone on the same page, but neither Pourciau nor Tangherlini attended the meeting, Jaffe said.

"They have clearly not made it a priority to put their questions front and center to the leaders throughout the region and seek answers to them," Jaffe said.

A program like CapCom has been discussed for several years. Research on the strategies for strengthening coordination between the region's transportation departments has been underway since early 2004. CapCom, which is modeled after New York's TRANSCOM, is the best solution, Kirby said.

DDOT has commissioned its own study through Volpe Center, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is viewed as unnecessary by Virginia and Maryland officials and could delay implementing a program in a timely manner, Jaffe said.

Currently, sharing information between the region's jurisdictions ranks below the priority of responding to the situation at hand and is often inconsistent, Kirby said. Plans call for CapCom to take on this responsibility in order to make information sharing a regional priority while local government agencies deal with their own problems.

CapCom would use systems already in place to monitor transportation in the National Capital Region, including the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System and CapWIN, an interoperable first responder data communication and information shared network that is used across the region. It would facilitate live information exchange among agencies and provide a single location where the public can get transportation information, Kirby said.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator