Saturday, June 28, 2008

Easing A Commute Or Saving A Historical Site

One of the dilemmas that the horrible traffic situation in the DC area has created is that the George Washington Memorial Parkway has been forced to carry an average of four times the 20,000 cars it was designed to carry. A reasonable reaction someone might have is to simply propose that the Parkway beyond its current two lanes. This is where the story gets a little interesting. As the Washington Post highlights in a quote from Jon James, expanding the highway isn’t that easy because it was designed to run very close to the Potomac.
"The infrastructure wasn't made to hold the volumes of traffic that are going on it now," said Jon James, acting superintendent of the parkway. "What we're trying to do is rehab it so that we can improve things as best we can without altering its historic character and the scenic mission it has. It's a real balancing act that requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking."
Another problem is that the parkway is in an extremely popular national park which provides visitors with a since of history with views of sites such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Doing a massive reconstruction of the highway to improve its safety (like most scenic routes, it isn’t a good idea to travel very fast on it) and expand its capacity would take away part of the charm that has made it one of the top ten national parks in the country.

So the question then becomes; which is more important, a historic site or easing people’s commute. This is something that is worth considering because the George Washington Memorial Parkway isn’t the only site that creates this dilemma. An entire book, in fact, was created about the preservation battles over Manassas National Battlefield (the site of the first major land battle of the Civil War). A large reason there has been so much debate over preserving the battlefield is because there has been so much expansion in the DC suburbs in Northern Virginia that a lot of people want to widen the roads that run through portions of the historic site.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I was a history major in college and loved growing up surrounded by the many historical sites our region has to offer, but I tend to think that we should give priority to preserving the history and character of the area. After all, that is one of the major reasons that so many people live here and clog roads such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

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