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The Tentacle


December 17, 2007

Homeland Security Fails I-270

Steven R. Berryman

Commuters traversing the Frederick to DC highway corridor via Interstate 270 suffer the agony still falling from the 1956 Defense Highway Act. The overcapacity delays cause average speeds to be reduced during rush hour to 30 M.P.H., costing a total of six entire man-years of time to be wasted every day.

How did we get here? What are the costs of not having more lanes added? Who benefits. And who’s to blame?

The driving conditions of this daily adventure are so fraught with danger that Allstate actuarial tables have a statistic which says you will be involved in an accident every five years. That contributes to your insurance rates. Your only non-choice is whether it will be a driver error, hit by a stranger, or a mechanical failure that gets you.

“The Big Ugly,” as WFMD’s Bob Miller insists on calling it, will slow you to a crawl for any reason you have ever heard of: too much sun; too little sun; it rained recently; it hasn’t rained enough; leaves blowing on the road; cross winds; fog; snow; rubbernecking; road rage; and, my favorite one from Dave Conrad, “It’s just the normal stuff.” The only time the radio traffic report really works is if you haven’t left your house for the day and have the option to telecommute!

Bail out? To where?

Depending on when you leave, select your favorite rush hour, as there are several: early-bird rush hour; I’m-from-Pennsylvania- (or West Virginia)-but-can’t-afford-to-live-closer rush hour; or the ever popular “construction vehicle special for vans and pick-up trucks. Oh, and also, Federal-Government-Flex-time rush hour, which extends the pain.

The capacity just isn’t there, period.

Forget what driver’s ed taught you. There is no one-car-length per 10 mph…or folks will hound you off the road and cut you off. Leave room in front to buffer and you get passed on the right. Not enough room in front and you end up like those horrifying movies they used to show, Mechanized Death and Mr. Rellik (killer backwards) courtesy of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. But it’s NASCAR, buddy, and sudden stops mean sudden death.

It was a good idea to build at the time, as the world was in a Cold War and Americans were falling in love with cars. Rationale by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for building it grew from his military experience in mass troop convoys in 1919 that actually went cross country, ending in Gettysburg. We wanted a mobile capability for the Army and emergency escape for our cities as part of nuclear war contingency planning. The North-South lanes are separated by land for more than safety; planners wanted them to be harder to “bomb out.”

A White House friend told me once that there was even a plan to land Air Force jets on roads to get them out of harms’ way in certain “Def-Cons” of alert when close to imminent attack.

But that was then.

The Department of Homeland Security owns this problem financially and certainly could find cash for more lanes each way if feet were held to the fire. They got us hooked on the wide roads and didn’t keep them up with the times. They seem to be able to print money at Treasury for the Iraq Conflict whenever needed, so how about us?

What if DC must be evacuated due to a terrorist incident? Many DC organizations already have plans in place to come up I-270 to escape, and even have standing reservations pre-booked at county hotels. They will need wider roads northbound to take any increased capacity.

What if Fort Detrick, now expanding, has a biological “Broken Arrow” incident, and we need to bail out quickly? Southbound would be essential for that as well.

And who wins with no change? Perhaps talk radio and some developers. That’s it.

What irks me is that those destined to trek I-270 have mostly become numb to the pain and have given up on hope for salvation by bold politicians. They seem to be okay with “There is just no money.”

Balderdash! Hold the DHS and the federal government’s feet to the fire via constant harassing, courtesy of our elected officials. Roscoe Bartlett, this means you. Take the needs of the people and the will of the majority and run with it.

I’d hate to start talking “vote out the bums” yet again.



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