ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams met in Annapolis on Wednesday to discuss regional issues, including homeland security, transportation, and the environment.
All three officials cited progress in coordinating their jurisdictions’ efforts, but said more work was needed, particularly in emergency preparedness. “We still have to get better. We will get better every day in our three jurisdictions,” Ehrlich said in a news conference after the meeting.
Homeland security was clearly on Ehrlich’s mind, after an incident last week that closed the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and reduced the Fort McHenry Tunnel to one lane of traffic in each direction for nearly two hours. Ehrlich said federal officials kept him well-informed as the FBI investigated a tip that someone was plotting to drive a vehicle loaded with explosives into one of Baltimore’s tunnels.
“It was done the way you would hope it would be done,” Ehrlich said.
Williams said the leaders of the three jurisdictions had learned a lot of lessons about how to handle an evacuation since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including how to best keep people informed about the threats. “You need to do more than simply say ‘run for the hills,'” Williams said.
Remembering his own experience on Capitol Hill during the Sept. 11 attacks, Ehrlich agreed that communication had improved. “We’re certainly not perfect … but we’re light years from where we were four years ago.”
The Maryland and Virginia governors also used Wednesday’s news conference to announce that the two states will spend about $1 million each on two studies that will look at ways to reduce congestion on the Woodrow Wilson and American Legion bridges. Options to be considered include dedicated rail or bus lanes, toll lanes, and lanes for high-occupancy vehicles.
Warner and Ehrlich said the states have been working separately to reduce congestion on the Capital Beltway and now need to work together. “Technology in use on one side of the bridge will go for naught unless there is appropriate technology on the other side of the bridge,” Ehrlich said.
Ehrlich said the three men also discussed problems with the Chesapeake Bay, particularly ways to strengthen the oyster population.
Warner pointed to gains in air quality in the region. Despite increased traffic on the roads, 2005 was the first year on record the region did not have a code red day all summer, thanks to better emissions control, he said. The regional meeting was the fifth such gathering since the three men began holding them in April 2003. Warner’s term ends in January, making this his last. –