The George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria has been under repair for the past year, and the condition of the road gets steadily worse. The trouble starts immediately at the Alexandria boundary as you drive south toward Mount Vernon and continues for three miles. Regular commuters don't need to be told about it. But people who use the road only occasionally deserve a warning that under present circumstances it is positively dangerous.

The Park Service and the contractor are trying to reconcile the demands of heavy construction with the need to keep the parkway open to the people who depend on it. But with the passage of time the operation has become less careful. The Park Service has generally tried to keep three lanes open, with the center lane reversible to benefit the commuters. But the lanes, narrow and eccentric, are marked by plastic pylons that get knocked about by the traffic. Sometimes it's obvious where the temporary lane is supposed to go. And sometimes it's not. The road isn't always easy to drive in broad daylight. At night, especially in rain, it can be scary.

The construction, when it is finally finished, will make the road safer than it originally was. But that's no excuse for unnecessary hazards in the meantime. The George Washington Parkway is an important road, not least because it is one of the loveliest roads on the East Coast -- a public work of art. It's also the only access to a chain of much cherished riverside parks that are well used even in winter. But the parkway is not being adequately managed during this rebuilding project, and you might want to consider a detour until the Park Service gets a better grip on its responsibilities.

If you use the parkway, be cautious. The intersections are unlighted and wretchedly marked. As for that center lane, think twice before you swing into it. While you may understand the reversible lane system perfectly, experience suggests that some drivers find it confusing -- and one of them may be headed toward you.