DIRECT FROM THE here-we-go-again file comes news of yet another round in the 30-odd years of hot-and-cold running debate about what to do with traffic along the George Washington Memorial Parkway between Spout Run and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. For those who don't share the twice-daily joys of rush-
hour commuting on this riverside strip, it is a time-honored
bottleneck -- scenic but regularly congested. Should more
lanes be added? More exits?
The easy answer, if you're among those commuters, is all of the above. But that's not the position of the National Park Service, which clings to an old-fashioned belief that this section of the country's first federal parkway should not be ruined by expensive and questionably efficient roadway alterations. We agree. Rather than wreck the scenery for what might at best be marginal improvements in the traffic flow, why not make certain modifications that the Park Service is now proposing -- and see how it goes?
These changes include some redesigning of several key entrances and exits where the rush-hour tie-ups occur. Ramps and lanes would be lengthened near Spout Run Parkway, Key Bridge, Roosevelt Bridge and the Roosevelt Island parking lot. Roads would be repaved with a special asphalt designed to reduce skidding in wet weather.
Rep. Frank Wolf and others are pushing for a widening of the GW Parkway to five or six lanes -- which would mean cutting down hundreds of oak, maple and other trees and might involve filling in a section of the Potomac River near Key Bridge and perhaps cantilevering the parkway over the river's edge in places. And for what result? More lanes, even more cars, all feeding into those bridges. More money, too: about twice as much as the Park Service's proposal. Even the American Automobile Association has doubts about what good it would do to add lanes.
Much of the work proposed by the Park Service needs to be done anyway -- and this plan deserves to be tried first. In the meantime, we are seeing changing regional commuting patterns, and we are awaiting the opening of more and more subway track that just might lighten car traffic a little bit. There may be some other work that should be added, such as another inside lane (one, not two) at the Spout Run merge area that would improve the morning flow to the bridges.
But the George Washington Parkway is the last spectacular gateway to the capital, not a beltway or a turnpike. The Park Service proposal is a genuine attempt to assist motorists while preserving the distinctive character of the parkway. That's worth doing -- and monitoring -- before embarking on any full-scale wrecking mission.