It’s a Wonderful Life

July 3, 2012
By The 2030 Group

Brett McMahon is President of Miller & Long DC, Inc.

Every December, we are treated to a viewing of Frank Capra’s classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Clarence the angel tells George Bailey, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” And by the end, after George sees what the world would be like without him, he understands how important he is to so many others.

When I look at the Washington Metropolitan Region, I see many projects that have become important to so many others, and I think about the “awful hole” that would exist without these amenities. While infrastructure investments are not unanimously supported, we can clearly see the wonderful impact they have had on our region’s economic growth and its residents’ quality of life.

I was born in Washington, DC and I’ve seen firsthand how much this region has benefitted from transportation and infrastructure developments through the years. The construction of the Metro, especially the expansions into Maryland and Northern Virginia, has connected our workforce to our work centers. What would have happened if our fundamental public transportation system never existed?

Well, if we think our region has the worst traffic congestion in the country today, think what it would be like without the Metro? The excessive hours of traffic every year may feel awful, but consider the alternative.  Those 594,521 daily Metro riders could be on the Beltway! Think of the money our workers would spend on gas. Think of the pollution and our air quality. While Metro surely isn’t perfect, our lives wouldn’t be so wonderful without it.

One of our greatest assets is our highly educated and diversified work force. Our region has grown to be dynamic, due in large part to the Federal Government’s presence here. Other regions of the country have had to work closely together to develop the type of vibrant economy we enjoy. We have not had to cooperate as much as other regions have because the Federal Government was always there to keep things moving. I think that sometimes we forget how wonderful we’ve had it. We now understand the federal government will not be playing as large a role in our growth as they have in the past, so if we want to continue to enjoy our great quality of life, regional thinking and action is a must.

According to research from Dr. Steve Fuller at George Mason University, the region will add 1 million net new jobs and replace an additional 1.8 million jobs in the next 20 years.  Connecting our region’s housing centers to its work centers should be our top priority. Infrastructure projects have improved interjurisdictional connectivity, but a lot more of them are needed. Looking at a map, we can see that our region suffers from a natural obstacle: the Potomac River. In a region subject to the will of three independent – and interdependent – jurisdictions, it is our duty to make sure Maryland, Virginia, and the District can access one another to allow for better economic collaboration.  Representatives from the Federal Government also need to participate in the discussion and implementation of these regional projects.

Bridging the Potomac allows Marylanders and Virginians to become partners. As federal jobs dwindle, commuters are bypassing the District altogether and cross the Potomac to get from their homes to their jobs. The Point of Rocks Bridge on Route 15 serves 20,000 vehicles every day, allowing for a quicker ride from Leesburg, VA to Frederick, MD. According to Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, “That will become 40,000 in 20-25 years. “I wonder if those areas would have flourished or continued to have flourished if that bridge had not been built? But there are 40 miles of un-bridged Potomac in between Point of Rocks and the I-495 crossing. If Northern Virginia centers – Reston, Dulles, Herndon, etc. – had better access to Maryland and its key 270 Corridor, we may see a more wonderful quality of life in those areas.We have many dynamic communities located within our region, but the difficulty most of us experience on our daily commute between them has to change.  Not only are our travel times growing, but we risk the quality of life we have come to enjoy, and we definitely cannot afford to lose those companies that want to come and grow here.

To borrow a line from Clarence the Angel, “You see, Washington Metropolitan Region, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?”