Was John Lennon on Arlington Boulevard in Falls Church when he wrote these lyrics?
He blew his mind out in a car.
He didn’t notice that the lights had changed.
Maybe. Because when the lights change in Northern Virginia, you don’t go anywhere.
And starting Monday, one of the last semi-reasonable traffic flows from the suburbs to the District will start to feel more like a trickle. Constitution Avenue NW is going to be torn apart and fixed up, causing a ripple effect on the Roosevelt Bridge, the Memorial Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge (which is still undergoing a facelift).
For Virginia drivers, this simply compounds the frustration of:
The Capital Beltway and its HOT lane chaos in Fairfax County.
The George Washington Parkway’s humpback bridge backups in Arlington County.
Tysons Corner, once dense, now impenetrable.
And Interstate 66, down to one lane at night in Fairfax.
In addition, beginning this fall, the Behemoth Known as BRAC will take its brutal toll on Interstate 395 in Alexandria.
Northern Virginia drivers are starting to get a little frazzled. Or paranoid. They wonder why it all has to happen at once. Are they out to get us?
“It’s getting insane,” Carlos Serrano of Falls Church said as he gassed up Friday morning and prepared to battle the traffic beast. “It used to take me 40 minutes to get to Northwest [D.C.]. Now it’s an hour and a half.”
“I moved here from L.A.,” said Braden Malnic of Rosslyn, “and this is pretty insane.”
“Insane,” Scott Turner of Loudoun County said as he pondered the domino effect of Constitution Avenue construction. “Just put ‘insane.’ ”
A theme is emerging here.
Now, those who have watched these matters for years would say there’s always something going on that makes the passage to the District difficult. The officials who line up these projects say they coordinate with each other and the affected local governments, bus lines, cycling groups and mental health providers.
“The bottom line is,” said Bill Line of the National Park Service, which is doing the Constitution Avenue rehab, “there is never any good time amongst the 365 days of the year to do these projects. And the reality is, the work has to get done at some point.”
Line notes that Constitution Avenue hasn’t really been repaired for 80 years. Eighty seems like a lot. But wouldn’t one more . . .
“To stop, it would only cost the taxpayers more money,” Line said, because the money is allocated, the contractors are lined up and the deals are done.
Officials said the planning process for these jobs takes years, that they don’t just sit down and say: “Let’s rip up three lanes of the 14th Street Bridge next week. Next week good for you?” The whole government path of proposals, studies, hearings, bids, rebids . . . it’s dull, and it’s long.
“We do try to coordinate” with other agencies and jurisdictions, said John Lisle, the spokesman for the District’s Department of Transportation. For Constitution Avenue, “we are working with them to try to limit the impact” by managing traffic signals and keeping the flow moving around the project on the boulevard. He said the 14th Street Bridge project should be done by fall. So that’s something.
Still, everyone has horror stories.
Barbara Hays of Alexandria: “One day, we were driving on the Beltway, and the lane just stopped. No sign. Nothing. It was ridiculous.”
The agencies do talk to each other, Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Joan Morris said, but when the funding and the planning come together, “you’ve got to make hay while the sun is out.” She said that ultimately, the local infrastructure will be much improved, “but it is going to be a royal pain for motorists this summer.”
John Townsend of AAA said Virginia had been “behind the eight ball for so many years” in transportation funding, and now that roads and mass transit are being built, “it’s encouraging. But it’s also frustrating.”
“Now,” Townsend said, “you’re going to be reminded every single day that you’re stuck in the worst gridlock in the entire nation. It’s the underbelly of living in the D.C. area.”
Does that make those of us who drive here . . . insane?