Washington, DC’s 3rd Gift to the World – Capital Beltway

Castles had moats. Washington D.C. has the Capital Beltway. Few roads compete with the Beltway for cultural meaning. It figuratively represents American politics and government to the rest of the world. Typically, when someone from outside the region says “inside the Beltway” they are not saying out of admiration for the wonks, politicos, lobbyists, journalists and others that work in the nation’s capital. Inside the region, we think of “inside the Beltway” as a way to distinguish whether one lives in suburban sprawl or denser, old development with more mass transit options. Credit Mike Causey with coming up with the term in The Post in 1969, five years after the highway was completed.

Literally, the Beltway is a interstate highway that circles the District. President Eisenhower wanted a loop around the city for the military to circle around in case of an atomic attack. From a more practical perspective, it was designed to have through traffic bypass the city. It was completed in 1964 and christened I-495. Much of it was two lanes in each direction. By the mid 1970s, the explosive growth along it necessitated widening to four lanes each way throughout, with a few exceptions like the Wilson Bridge. In the 1970s, when I-95 (along with other freeways) was cancelled in the District, the Beltway also officially became the main street of the east coast with I-95 running along the southern and eastern portions. In 1989, the I-495 designation was returned to I-95 portion to reduce motorist confusion.

I suppose the gift of the Beltway to the rest of the world is handy way to refer to the politically powerful, with slang. For Washingtonians, the Beltway doesn’t usually seem like much a gift with the traffic. We can probably find something to appreciate about it, can’t we?

Oh and to those Americans who really dislike the powerful that reside inside I-495, remember that you helped send them here. If you ever voted for Bud Shuster, Jesse Helms, Jim Trafficant and Robert Byrd you lose all right to complain.

Actually, I kind of miss Trafficant.

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