Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Get Your Kicks Off Route 66

I think everyone knows that the Washington D.C. area has the worst traffic in the nation. Even though I don't regularly drive in the bad traffic areas, I'm aware of them by means of the traffic reports from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center of WTOP-FM (103.5) which air every ten minutes (with the weather on the eights) around the clock. As one traffic engineer I talked to said, "We have too many cars and not enough roads." There are a lot of people here because there are a lot of jobs and there is not enough public transportation, or at least public transportation that is good, efficient and inexpensive enough to make people leave their cars and ride a bicycle, bus, train or boat.

To make matters worse, roads must be maintained.  This seems like an obvious statement, but a road can't be closed completely so it can be resurfaced or whatever.  I know, a road could be completely closed for a period of time, but we know the mess that results from the closure whether it's due to maintenance or an accident.  There are miles-long backups, and traffic clogs side streets and neighborhoods.  A lot of this work is done at night or between what used to be called "rush hours" (now 24/7 as I said). Even with less traffic between, say 9 AM and 3 PM or overnight, when lanes close, traffic backs up. We picked Amy up from her big Southwest adventure at BWI Airport.  Her flight was due in about 10:15 and we left about 8:15, leaving in what we thought was plenty of time sing Google maps indicated that the 68 mile trip would take about an hour and twenty minutes, in an ideal world. With the amount of traffic and construction closed lanes on both I-66 and 495, we reached the cell lot about 10:15. That's two hours travel time if you're keeping track. Coming back, we sat at a dead standstill for ten minutes in the Tysons Corner subway construction area near the intersection of 495 and 123.  Once we got moving (slowly), Amy told us to take the 123 exit to International Drive to the Dulles Toll Road to Route 28 South, none of which had much traffic. It was a frustrating exercise in driving (which Becky did; I was the navigator.)

As I said, we don't drive in these high traffic areas much.  Congestion can be bad enough around Manassas, but we know which intersections and streets to avoid.  The main commercial artery through town and beyond is Business 234 (to differentiate it from Bypass 234 which runs from Woodbridge past I-95 and on up to I-66), a classic commercial road with shopping centers, restaurants and a variety of other businesses. Business 234 goes from its intersection with Bypass 234 to the south of Manassas, through town, up to the interchange with I-66 and then through the Manassas Battlefield Park and into more rural areas until it intersects with Route 15. Between the City and the Battlefield Park, traffic is dense and slow-moving except for late at night or very early in the morning.

Yesterday I was headed out 234 about 10 AM when I noticed traffic was thicker than usual. It started crawling by the Prince William Hospital Campus, and continued for about three miles where I discovered that a road crew had closed two out of three lanes to repave them.  I supposed that they would work during the day and quit about 5 PM. I supposed wrong.  They were back today, backing up traffic and working past 7 PM. Now I know that 234 Business (also known as Sudley Road, I mention belatedly) is not I-270, but thousands of drivers were inconvenienced, frustrated and made late for their activities. Time spent sitting in traffic also has a negative impact on the economy. Couldn't the crews have worked at night? It might have cost more but it would have been better for us all. We all want well-maintained roads but we also want reasonably clear roads.  I think we can have both.

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