- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

I’d be willing to bet a winning Virginia lottery ticket that anyone who owned any kind of vehicle on wheels tried to roll it somewhere during the Holiday Highway Horror of last weekend.

I know because I was one of the fuming and frustrated millions of motorists Friday, trying to snake my way from the Tidewater tunnels to the Capital Beltway to Northern Virginia to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to Upper Marlboro, Bowie and back to Alexandria.

It never seems to fail: Just when you really need to get somewhere, you’re faced with unusual obstacles and insurmountable hurdles. But the unexpected is the unavoidable part of this journey called life that can make or break you.

I was traveling last week for a speaking engagement at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communication at Hampton University to discuss my contribution to the book “Black Voices in Commentary,” a compilation of commentaries by the nation’s black newspaper columnists. Then I had an important 6 p.m. business meeting to accompany an important family member in the Southern Maryland suburbs. So I left Tidewater at 10:30 a.m.

Plenty of time, right? When I sailed through the Hampton Roads tunnel, I just knew I was going to be home in time for a late tuna fish lunch.

Guess again. Not a fast lane in sight. If there were a shortcut, a back road or a turnaround on Interstate 64, where I encountered a 10-mile backup because of three accidents, I would have taken it.

Simply no easy or quick way out. It took me 10 hours to complete this circuitous 245-plus-mile crawl. Even MapQuest — whose estimates are exaggerated — suggested that a trek past the cow pastures and state troopers dotting U.S. 17 should have been completed in 301 minutes, just over five hours.

You won’t believe it, but it took me only 2 hours to drive to Hampton from Alexandria. Of course, that was midweek, midday.

If there are two things I pride myself on, they are my sense of direction and my ability to get around this area’s notorious traffic jams.

With years of being a newsroom dispatcher for television crews, I still have a few secret shortcuts in my built-in human GPS.

While I definitely know better than to get caught in holiday horror traffic, the spring break/Palm Sunday/Passover season sneaked up on me.

Admittedly in road-rage recovery, working on my impatience, I was just about ready to jump off the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and swim across the Potomac River by the late hour I finally unfolded out of my car Friday night.

Mind you, I still had a round trip to Baltimore to deal with the next day, which was met with slightly fewer fellow travelers. I didn’t dare go anywhere near the cherry-blossom-popping Tidal Basin, and the Douglass Bridge was closed for baseball-stadium-related construction.

Anyone who thinks traffic tie-ups are the bane only of Virginia drivers’ existences need only to have been among the millions of drivers on Friday. I really feel for long-distance commuters, who must spend hours burning up gas sitting on stalled highways and bridges.

How are we ever going to get out of our gridlock mess?

Even as the Virginia General Assembly tomorrow considers Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s amendments to the $3 billion transportation bill, we know this legislation will not be enough.

“The governor has done the best he can with a real piece of [junk],” Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Northern Virginia Democrat, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “He’s put a mink coat on a pig.”

The transportation plan, which includes a host of nitpicking fees, will certainly help Virginia politicians when they seek re-election this fall, touting their no-new-statewide-taxes-for-new-roads scam. The bill unfairly relies on localities to make the tough tax decisions to provide for road improvements in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, which local leaders are reluctant to do.

“Instead of either simplicity or fairness, Virginia will end up with a transportation-funding plan that gathers an inadequate mess of nickels and dimes that won’t be enough to keep traffic from getting worse and won’t start building roads for years. You can thank politics for that,” read an editorial in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Hampton Roads leaders in 12 communities are considering a fall referendum to establish a regional transportation taxing authority. That will never happen here, where a similar measure already has failed.

None of this lunacy of passing the buck back and forth will help any of us trying to get from point A to point B most days. Think of all the lost time from work, from families, from civic responsibilities — not to mention money from the wasted gas alone, wavering like mystical vapors in the polluted air.

Even money earmarked for more public transportation options will not make a dent in the traveler’s traffic woes. And self-preserving politicians don’t even want to think about tackling the controversial transportation-funding generators such as tolls, hot lanes or dedicated taxes on developer donors.

Having passed whole communities growing like cornstalks out of former farmlands during my latest long drive, it is clear to me that gridlock is getting worse. While shopping malls and big-box stores dot the countryside, necessary infrastructure improvements such as widened roads have not kept pace with new developments.

Poor planning,unchecked growth and greed in our tri-state region have trapped us in a spider web of clogged roadways from which we cannot escape, especially during the upcoming Holiday Highway Horror.

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