June 4th, 2012
01:10 PM ET

Letters to the President #1232: 'A traffic jam'

Reporter's Note: I write a letter to President Obama each day. I thought about writing poems instead, but that seemed kind of creepy.

Dear Mr. President,

This past weekend I encountered one of those situations which make citizens crazy. I mention it because it is the type of situation that you will never encounter again, but which I think fuels a basic mistrust in government.

My family and I were returning from a day in Virginia seeing a few sights, and hanging out a bit, when we ran into a traffic jam. Now, I’ve lived in D.C. long enough to know that these come with the territory. When you cram this many people into a space the size of this city, you’re going to have issues. This jam, however, was one of the biggest and worst I’ve seen. Traffic came to a standstill or barely moved, even though it was close to midnight. We assumed it had to be an accident up ahead, and when state troopers came shooting past with their lights blazing we were sure of it.

Instead, it turned out after more than an hour of inching along, we came to the obstruction, and it was road repairs that had closed all but one lane. Fair enough. I suppose such work has to be done at some time and midnight on a Saturday is better than noon on a Monday. I’m not convinced that so many lanes needed to be closed, but I’ll accept it.

Then came the extra straw on the camel’s back. We finally broke free, resumed driving at the speed limit, and 15 miles later turned onto the beltway around D.C. only to run smack into the exact same situation! Another hour of barely moving. Another hour of frustration over the lack of warning signs that this was ahead, which might have allowed some portion of the thousands of cars trapped there to take evasive action.

Sure, the same arguments can be made about the second word site: It had to be done some time. But I am astonished that in a great metropolis like this one, with all the computer modeling we have available, and all the endless talk of streamlining government…making it more efficient…that no one bothers to say, “Let’s not have two of these projects happening simultaneously because that is just asking for trouble.”

I admit that I’m not talking about the deficit, or health reform, or rewriting the tax code. All things considered, this was an inconvenience that kept me from reaching my home before midnight as planned, and instead had me pulling in around 2 a.m. But this is how most people experience government on a daily basis. We’re not involved in arms negotiations, or budget talks, or health care debates…we deal with things like traffic jams, and parking tickets, and water companies. We face the cutting edge of security lines, and trash collection services, and public schools.

If government does not work well on those levels, then you can understand why many voters doubt government’s ability to handle bigger, more complex issues.

Just a thought on a busy Monday. Hope all is well.


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