The National Park Service, bless 'em, has produced a spectacular new traffic bottleneck in Washington. It affects people trying to drive on weekday mornings from parts of Virginia, Prince George's County and Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom, Georgetown and the Washington approach to Memorial Bridge.

Such commuters were confronted yesterday by a new traffic divider in the underpass that carries Independence Avenue Extended beneath the Rock Creek Parkway bridge right next to the Lincoln Memorial Circle. (Please consult the map at right.) Where two lanes were available for west/northbound traffic on Tuesday, only one lane was available yesterday.

And the cars were backed up in the morning rush hour on Independence Avenue more than halfway to the Tidal Basin. Washington-bound cars were backed up on Memorial Bridge as well. One driver who ordinarily makes the trip from Capitol Hill to Rosslyn in 15 minutes at the peak of the morning rush hour found that the trip yesterday consumed 35 minutes.

The bottleneck is the result of preparations for a reconstruction project involving Memorial Bridge and its approaches, according to Sandra Alley of National Capital Parks, the park service's local arm.

The problem is only a morning phenomenon. In the morning rush hour, south/eastbound traffic from Rock Creek Parkway and the Roosevelt Bridge has, and will continue to have, two lanes leading toward Independence Avenue. In the evening, the affected section of Independence Avenue Extended is one-way, west/northbound.

But for the morning west/northbound commuter, it's like a funnel filled to overflowing, with more liquid entering the top than can flow through the bottom. The top of the funnel, Independence Avenue westbound, has three lanes, and Memorial Bridge traffic produces a fourth lane of cars. Squeezing them into one lane is simply impossible.

"There is no way to build an extra lane," said spokeswoman Alley. "That's the problem."

Metro Scene has a suggestion: In morning rush hours only, open Daniel French Drive and the Lincoln Memorial Circle -- now reserved for tourist pedestrians -- to commuters, who could bypass the new bottleneck by going up 23rd Street NW.