EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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February 12, 2013

Column: Washington, D.C., going nowhere, study says

You know you’re talking to veteran Washingtonians if they remember the battle of the Three Sisters Bridge.

The three sisters were — and are — a trio of rocks in the Potomac River just north of town. The best thing about the bridge would have been the name, but it wouldn’t have lasted. The name would have been changed to something politically useful or influential, at the time probably named after whomever was chairman of the bridge and highway subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

The bridge immediately south of the Three Sisters originally went by the enigmatic and exotic name of Cabin John, who, legend had it, was a local hermit and recluse. Romantic though it was, politically the name was a nonstarter and the bridge was named after the American Legion and has become synonymous with a twice-daily traffic jam.

In the woods not far from my house there is a graceful highway bridge to nowhere, now almost completely obscured by trees, its roadbed overgrown. It’s a relic of a master highway plan for the national capital that would have had four huge interstates linking up around the National Mall, offering motorists speed and convenience, although at the sacrifice of several historic neighborhoods and treasured national parks.

The great national monuments would have been ringed by interchanges and accessible only to those fleet enough of foot to sprint across six lanes of traffic. Mercifully, almost none of this was ever built, although evidence of it still survives in the form of the capital’s bizarre traffic patterns.

That traumatic experience is perhaps one reason the Washington metropolitan area took with great equanimity the finding by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute that Washington has the worst traffic congestion and longest commutes of any city in the nation, including such notorious traffic snarls as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston.

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