Bill Seeks Study of D.C. Region

Posted December 12, 2003 at 2:47pm

Hoping to ensure a smooth evacuation of the Washington region in the event of a terrorist attack, a bipartisan group of D.C.-area Members has introduced a bill to examine the boundaries of the national capital region.

The legislation, referred to the House Homeland Security Committee, would establish a commission to study the infrastructure along the highways out of the city to determine if the region should include more evacuation routes and medical facilities.

“We know we have a traffic problem,” said Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), a co-sponsor of the bill. “It’s not just a commuting problem. It makes sense to plan in case of an emergency.”

Cardin and other sponsors said the current highway system and its infrastructure would cripple when faced with mass casualties and medical needs during an evacuation. The Members hope the study will offer insight to the area’s ability to provide medical assistance, decontamination and other issues resulting from a terrorist attack.

The national capital region is defined in federal law as the District of Columbia; the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s; and the Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William; and all cities within the combined outer boundaries of the counties listed, such as Alexandria.

The legislation directs the secretary of Homeland Security to study the major highways out of the city — Interstates 66, 95 and 270 in Maryland and Virginia.

“My work ends at 6 or 7 p.m., but I stay here until 9 p.m. because I’d rather sit in the comfort of my office than on the highway,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), the sponsor of the bill. “I can’t even get home at a reasonable time on a normal workday.”

A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said the agency is not aware of the bill. He said the department already has an Office of the National Capital Region Coordination, which was established with the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments adopted a regional emergency coordination plan Sept. 11, 2002, that provides collaboration in planning, communication, information sharing and coordination during a regional emergency, but its executive director acknowledges that a mobility problem still exists.

“Anything that can be done to enhance the mobility [of people] is a good thing,” said Dave Robertson, adding that he encourages a study of the region’s transportation system as long as it is a “collaborative process.”

Like the Council of Governments, the D.C. Department of Transportation has identified 25 corridors radiating from downtown Washington as emergency evacuation routes. Each extends to the Capital Beltway and beyond.

Other co-sponsors include Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Tom Davis (R-Va.), Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), Virgil Goode (R-Va.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).