Obama Touts Stimulus Funding of Fairfax Parkway Extension

President Barack Obama says the economy is in better shape because of the stimulus bill. He made the comment after touring a construction, that he says is one of 8,000 highway project approved under the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. (Oct. 14)
By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009

One of the beauties of being president is that you are never slowed by highway construction zones. But when President Obama ventured into Northern Virginia on Wednesday, he set foot in a land awash in orange traffic cones.

Everyone else who drives through the suburbs to the south and west of the District is well aware that some of the most congested highways in the nation are in the midst of a major overhaul and expansion. If one day this work makes things better, right now it means miles of backups -- often at odd hours -- on virtually every major roadway.

The president went to Fairfax County to tout spending from his economic stimulus package, using construction on the Fairfax County Parkway extension, which is getting $60 million in stimulus money, as a backdrop.

"The current phase of construction will create new private-sector jobs -- and that won't just make a difference to all the people who get these jobs; it will make a difference to all those communities where they spend their paychecks," Obama said, citing 5,000 other stimulus highway projects underway nationally. "Businesses of all sizes will be fueled by their paychecks -- in Fairfax County, in Virginia and beyond."

Within hours after the presidential motorcade buzzed back to Washington, orange cones and flashing detour signs popped up all over. One of the westbound lanes of Interstate 66 was closed so the median could be cleared of trees to make way for the Dulles rail project. Telegraph Road and various ramps at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge were shut down overnight. And the Lorton Road exit off Interstate 95 was closed while paving crews moved in for the night.

Lists of daily closings are pumped out regularly, enough to fill several computer screens or a full page of a newspaper when compiled in single place.

For drivers who already wasted an average of 62 hours a year stuck in traffic, all of the Northern Virginia construction adds up to more delays and tens of thousands of orange cones.

Calculated through the eyes of a taxpayer, the work runs into the billions of dollars. Coming with the concrete hardly dry on the $676 million Springfield Interchange and the $2.5 billion Wilson Bridge are: rebuilding the Telegraph Road interchange, finishing the Fairfax Parkway, widening I-95, building high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 495, constructing the first phase of a Metro line to Dulles International Airport, widening I-66 and putting in new interchanges on Route 28. Battlefield Parkway is now four lanes, and four roundabouts just opened at Gilberts Corner.

The bottom line is more than $5 billion, and Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance says the bottom line is not enough.

"It's not that we're ahead of the curve," he said. "We're still playing catch-up."

When the final bit of that work is complete -- sometime in 2013 for Dulles rail and the HOT lanes -- Chase sees a need for far more ambitious transportation projects if Northern Virginia's population grows by a projected 1 million in the next 30 years.

Chase, who has been involved in regional transportation issues for two decades, sees the long-term answer as creation of a larger highway grid that will relieve pressure put on the Capital Beltway by thousands of drivers who resort to that road because there are no other options.

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