I have this recurring issue with Northern Virginia: I can’t get anyplace I need to go. Take one Friday last month when my nine-months pregnant wife burst into the room and shouted “the OB says we need to get to Fairfax hospital now!” She then added: “Gleeeeeeeearrrrrgh!”
There was only one problem that I saw: “It’s rush hour. We’ll never make it to Fairfax.”
I was right. After a truly incomprehensible quantity of time sitting in traffic on Route 50 hoping to get to Interstate 66, my wife grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and yelled “Go to Fair Oaks!” For good measure she added some obscenities. She also saved our youngest child from being named “Nutley,” after the exit on I-66 where I’m certain he would’ve been born.
So far in 2011, we’ve had , and . Twelve-hour commutes are the norm any time an aberrant event occurs, even though we are 10 years past 9/11 and living in the prime target objective for any terrorist. These 12-hour commutes, though, are just an extension of your typical Tuesday, in which the extraordinary occurrence of everybody leaving work creates gridlock regionwide.
Personally, my life is now dictated by traffic patterns and time-of-day. I don’t venture into Fairfax unless it’s after 9 a.m., and I try to get out of there by 3 p.m. in the hopes I may see my children before they go to bed. As a freelance writer, I have the luxury of creating my own schedule, but I apply the same logic regionwide. I can go to Maryland if I leave after 9 a.m.; I can get to D.C. provided I get to Vienna metro before 8 a.m.. I’ve given up on getting on the Beltway at all. I can’t remember what Tysons Corner looks like.
Recent years have seen numerous road construction projects. The Springfield Mixing Bowl took eight years and cost $676 million, according to the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. The project mildly eased congestion in Springfield before giving way to the HOT lanes project, which at a cost of $2 billion plus all of your out-of-pocket tolls, will supposedly relieve congestion on the Capital Beltway.
Dulles Metrorail will ease movement in and out of D.C. for those fortunate enough to live near it, but I am certain it will do nothing to help anybody get to Fairfax Hospital from Chantilly during a Friday morning rush hour when their wife is giving birth.
We are trapped in a viscious cycle in which we endure suffering during the present to make way for a future that never comes. All of these projects that tie up roads every day are full of promise, but the overall problem of traffic and traffic congestion continues to get worse each year. We endure these small-scale disasters while ignoring the fact that, should a major disaster occur, we are catastrophically screwed.
People sometimes need to get from point A to point B. They don’t have to do it in a car, but in an emergency, they need to do it fast. Constantly expanding and re-expanding a clogged, inefficient road network fits Einstein’s definition of insanity; expecting a different result while taking the same approach.
I’ll happily strap myself into a jet pack or jump on the bullet train of death if it holds some promise of getting me across town faster—or at all.