Staff Editorial: Department of Transportation merits extra council attention

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D.C. officials kicked off the 2016 Potholepalooza in the 3200 block of Brandywine Street NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2016)

Like most of his colleagues, Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie has heard many constituents complain about long-running issues involving the D.C. Department of Transportation: Roads and sidewalks that weren’t repaired, or that were repaired badly. Safety hazards that were ignored or inadequately addressed. Congestion that continued to build.

These issues are hardly unique to Ward 5. Across the city, community leaders and other residents have raised many such complaints. Indeed, we heard hours of testimony from residents at this spring’s council hearing on the Transportation Department.

But when dozens of witnesses are waiting to share a wide variety of concerns and comments, the council can only dedicate so much time to each individual, localized issue. On the other hand, we’ve also attended advisory neighborhood commission meetings that air specific grievances in great depth — only to see the Department of Transportation ignore the community’s feedback.

Council member McDuffie arrived at a welcome way of handling this issue: holding a roundtable hearing within his ward on transportation issues specific to that area. This approach combines the influence of a council member with the focus on a specific location. It also brings the council out into the community, rather than relying on witnesses who make the trek downtown to the John A. Wilson Building.

We applaud Mr. McDuffie’s innovative thinking on the matter, and we hope that our Northwest representatives will follow suit.

Of course, dealing with a recalcitrant agency requires more than a one-time roundtable meeting. Such a meeting can help ward council members hear from their constituents about the Transportation Department, and lets them press the agency to respond publicly and on the record. The essential next step is to follow up and ensure that the department acts on promises that improvements are in sight.

Council members are in a far better position than advisory neighborhood commissioners to hold the Department of Transportation’s feet to the fire on needed changes. We hope to see them do so across Northwest.