D.C. traffic control officers keep order during 14th Street makeover

Traffic control officer Tamarcus Jones in action at 14th and Park roads NW. A major project in the area is nearing completion.
Traffic control officer Tamarcus Jones in action at 14th and Park roads NW. A major project in the area is nearing completion. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Ashley Halsey III and David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2010

The big orange barrels, the concrete barriers and the traffic control officers seem to have marched up and down 14th Street NW for almost two years as the Columbia Heights Streetscape rejuvenation has gone on behind them.

Now, with the project entering its final phase, they are expected to vanish by the end of June as 14th Street's new look emerges from the construction cocoon -- and if the weather cooperates.

It will all look lovely when it's done -- new fountains, sidewalks, curbs, paving and more -- but the months of urban surgery on a narrow street with plenty of traffic and pedestrians has been challenging.

The closure of multiple lanes, the 20,000 people a day who use the nearby Metrorail station, the many delivery trucks, construction vehicles and Circulator and Metro buses, as well as rush-hour traffic, make the area a complex corridor to manage.

"It has involved reconstruction of lanes and curbs and lots of utility work," said John Lisle of the District Department of Transportation. "There has been a lot of shifting lane patterns and pedestrian concerns, so we've had the traffic control officers up there to help the cars get through and to look after the pedestrians."

It's a stressful and sometimes dangerous job, but a small team of traffic control officers (or TCOs, as they are commonly known) has helped to keep everything in motion, Lisle said.

"Though at times the coordination has been difficult, the TCOs are doing their best to balance all the competing needs and keep everyone safe until the project is done at the end of the month," he said.

One of the officers who has been a stalwart in helping drivers and walkers coexist with the construction is Tamarcus Jones. "Tamarcus is one of our more experienced TCOs," Lisle said. "Pedestrian safety has been one of the big issues."

Jones, 30, a District native, likes to take command of an intersection, advancing on the action with crisp hand gestures and staccato blasts from the whistle he keeps clenched in his teeth. "You gotta have some guts," he said. "You can't be scared. Because like a dog, they can smell fear."

Jones gets assigned to some of the city's most challenging crossroads.

"He's good because he pays attention," said Linda Frazier, a pedestrian on a recent afternoon, who has noticed Jones's work with appreciation on many occasions. She works in Rockville and lives in Brookland, but she stops in Columbia Heights for the restaurants and shopping. "He's open to all that's around him. . . . Keep up the good work, Mr. Jones!"

Among Jones's recent duties has been handling traffic as paving was done on 14th Street between Monroe and Newton streets and on Monroe Street as well.

"At least if you pass through my intersection," he said, "you made it safely."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company