The Beltway's Beaten Path: From Simple Road To Symbolic Borderland

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Fifty years ago Sunday, the final stretch of the Washington Beltway was completed. In the years since, the road has become a symbol larger than its lanes.


It has become a cliche for news reporters and anchors.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are inside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Inside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He see's Rove's effort as an inside the Beltway power grab.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: When your chattering class is inside the Beltway, who just don't...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I was divided between inside and outside the Beltway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: So this is an inside the Beltway huff and puff. It'll be gone in a week.

SIEGEL: Inside the Beltway? Well, that's where the wonks and the palls are.


Outside the Beltway? That's, you know, America. The real country. The Beltway is Interstate 495.

SIEGEL: Conventional wisdom declares that those inside are out of touch with those outside the Beltway. A selfish, narrow agenda rains inside. Real values prevail outside.

BLOCK: Well, the real asphalt and concrete Beltway that circles the nation's capitals turns 50 this weekend. The final stretch of the 64 mile-long highway was officially dedicated on August 17, 1964.

SIEGEL: It allowed drivers to get around the city without having to go into it. But most week days and some weekends it's a slow-moving commuter route, multiple lanes crawling clockwise on what's known to traffic reporters as the inner-loop and counterclockwise on the outer-loop.

BLOCK: According what we could find, it took more than a decade before the Beltway was used as the metaphorical divide between the nations leaders and everyone else. On October 12, 1975 the New York Times journalist Nicholas M. Horrock wrote this.

SIEGEL: In the White House of Richard M. Nixon it was said that Watergate would become serious only if it got outside the Washington Beltway. If the depths of the disgrace were understood by the American people.

BLOCK: Two years later the hyphenated phrase inside-the-Beltway appeared in a Washington Post headline. It should be noted that the Washington Beltway itself is entirely outside of Washington D.C.

SIEGEL: It's in the states of Maryland and Virginia.

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