Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Worst Stretches of Road in Northern Virginia

Northern Virginia has the distinction of Los Angeles area traffic without the palm trees or nice weather. There are miles of suburban hell (strip malls, big box stores, gas stations) interlaced with highways that always seem clogged with traffic, and stop lights that can slow even the shortest drive. This is a result of steady growth during the automobile age with no regulation, and we now have an area that was once rustic farmland and now has most of the disadvantages of a big city without the conveniences.

Of course, there are some nice suburbs and built up areas here as well, but it seems the main connecting roads offer a view of the worst we have to offer (sort of like how the final stretch of New Jersey just before you reach Manhattan is one of the ugliest views of that state). Here's a list of my personal least favorites:

1) Fairfax Circle. This is a needlessly complicated crossroads, where Lee Highway meets Rte. 50. Instead of a simple two way traffic light, we have the benefits of both the lights and a weird circle that makes it so that taking a left can require going through two lights, stopping twice. Because of this weird configuration (having to be in the right lane in order to make a left by going around the "circle") there's often an idiot in a minivan who is utterly confused and comes to an abrupt stop in front of you. Thanks, local leaders!

2) I-66 in West Falls Church. It seems this stretch is always backed up in both directions, since there's a merge and then it goes from three to two lanes. Clearly this could be fixed by widening the highway to three lanes the whole way through, but the local authorities in Arlington are full of unnatural hate for their brethren to the west.

3) I-395 bridge over the Potomac. This is often backed up due to endless construction and the fact that too many merges exist on this short stretch, causing drivers new to the area to slow down in confusion about where they have to merge. My own drive over this bridge often requires several lane changes to get to my exit, and while this can be seamless since I know my route, I can imagine the chaos it causes someone the first time they take it. Muliply that by the large volume and you have a bridge that's a real mess.

4) Seven Corners. That part of Falls Church/Arlington where Rte. 7, Rte. 50, and a bunch of other roads meet contains a lovely view of suburban decay, and you get a good chance to look at it because you'll be stuck in constant stop and go traffic. And for some reason it doesn't matter what time of day or time of year it is--the guy next to me has a Honda coupe with a ridiculous bolted-on spoiler, his windows wide open, and a willingness to share his awful taste of music with the whole community of drivers.

5) I-495 near Tysons Corner. Partly due to incessant construction, partly due to the fact that both Rte. 123 and Rte. 7 cross the Beltway here, this stretch is both a constant merging hazard and a source of backup. I don't know how daily commuters deal with this knot without purchasing a flamethrower and going all slow-roaster on their fellow citizens. Driving through there just once during rush hour made me believe in a very evil God. I call him Trafficor!

6) The Mixing Bowl. Fortunately I almost never have to pass through the area where I-395, I-95 and I-495 (and don't forget Rte. 1!) meet below Alexandria. The architectural marvel of so many ramps and loops twisting in and out would be a neat sight to behold if you weren't always clinging to your steering wheel and hoping the semi next to you isn't going to try its aggressive last second merge until it has passed you first. I understand this interchange was designed by the winner of a contest. Unfortunately the contest was given to the inmates of an Institution for the Hopelessly Insane.

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