Karen Young: COG is Moving the Region Forward

May 3, 2013

The op-ed by Karen Young is reprinted from the May 3, 2013 issue of the Washington Business Journal

Contrary to John Slidell’s April 12 Guest Comment claiming that “there is almost no one in this region who wakes up every day thinking about what the region needs to prosper in the future,” I know scores of people deeply committed to regional cooperation and sharply focused on our economic competitiveness.

They include Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and the other 300 local, state and federal elected officials who are members of the Council of Governments. In addition, hundreds of transportation planners, police and fire chiefs, environmental officials, and private and civic stakeholders work with us through COG and its professional staff members.

We are indeed a broad coalition moving forward and making great progress in addressing key regional challenges.

In regards to traffic congestion, leaders at COG strongly advocated for increased investment in transportation, and we are encouraged by the recent funding bills passed by the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures. Voters will now expect to see results. Fortunately, the transportation planning board at COG is busy finalizing a regional transportation priorities plan, which will help ensure that these valuable dollars are spent wisely. The plan is identifying 10 to 15 top transportation strategies, which have been informed by extensive input from the public and stakeholders.

The Council of Governments is also developing a plan for local governments, developers, and transit agencies to guide investment in our region’s mixed-use activity centers. The plan will be an unprecedented analysis of almost 100 centers detailing needs ranging from sidewalks to ground-level retail to parks. Like the transportation priorities plan, it will help leaders make wise investments in critical land-use projects such as the transformation of Tysons and future growth around Prince George’s County Metrorail stations.

The ink is still drying on a landmark regional accomplishment, the legal agreement to ensure the operation of the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant for the next 98 years. The deal, coordinated by Council of Governments staff, ensures the largest advanced treatment facility in the world will continue serving more than 2 million residents and have the capacity needed for growth and development for decades to come.

The list of high-profile regional initiatives led by COG and our partners goes on — securing and managing a $59 million TIGER grant to improve regional bus transit, launching the regional “Street Smart” traffic safety campaign, and working with Verizon, state and federal officials to ensure reliable 911 service.

While these actions strengthen the region’s economy and improve our quality of life, it is important to note that they are also part of our wider vision, called Region Forward. This vision consists of broad goals — a strong economy, a variety of housing and transportation choices, safe communities, and a clean environment.

All around our region there’s ample evidence of leaders working toward a common vision. From Potomac Town Center in Prince William County to NoMa in D.C. to downtown Frederick, Md., you can find vibrant activity centers that are mixed-use but distinctive. Our region ranks second in transit ridership nationally thanks to investments in the Metro system, commuter rail, and local buses. And in regards to air quality and the Potomac River — once a national embarrassment — we now see steady and profound improvements. These achievements didn’t happen by chance. They occur because leaders are thinking regionally when making smart, local decisions.

Despite this progress, there is much to maintain and improve. Given the concerns about sequestration and the long-term outlook of reduced federal spending, my colleagues and I at COG have worked with business leaders, economic development officials and industry experts to identify key needs for strengthening regional competitiveness. These include better workforce development and regional branding in addition to our transportation and activity center work.

The right priorities for growth are aligning. A strong network of regional leaders exists. I am heartened that more people are waking up to the need for greater cooperation, and the Council of Governments will continue moving the region forward with our public, private and nonprofit partners.

Karen Young is president pro-tem of the city of Frederick, Md., Board of Aldermen and chairwoman of the Council of Governments.

 

 
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