Washington area motorists coolly endured yesterday some of the longest gasoline lines - and highest prices - since the region's gasoline crunch struck weeks ago.

Gasoline prices here have increased 17 or 18 percent since January, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association said. Since the start of June, the price of a gallon of gasoline rose 1 1/2 cents each week, the spokesman said.

Since Jan. 1, the average price of unleaded gasoline - the most scarce in this area - jumped from 76 cents a gallon to 92.2 cents a gallon yesterday. During the same period, regular gasoline jumped from 72.1 to 88 cents to gallon and premium or high test from 79 to 95.1 cents per gallon.

But rising prices did not stop desperate motorists from seeking the precious fuel yesterday, one of the neutral days in the city's odd-even sales program. Gasoline lines snaked for blocks around the eight stations open in the District under the city's special weekend allocation plan.

"This is the worst I've seen yet," said D.C. Police Sgt. Ron King, who supervised four police officers directing traffic at a Sunoco station at 2510 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. "This line goes for 10 blocks and it was really bad here this morning before the station opened - we had two lines of cars waiting for gasoline."

Aboard Air Force One, meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jody Powell, accompanying the President to Tokyo, said: "I can't think of a better place for gas lines than Washington, D.C. No place should have a longer gas line than Washington."

Speaking about the energy crisis, Powell said, "We're suffering because of the way Washington has been behaving for the past several years. . . the government and your institutions," referring to news organizations.

Powell said the president now looks like a "prophet" because of his earlier energy proposals, most of which Congress has not enacted.

Along the nation's northeast coast, some government officials proclaimed this weekend the driest weekend ever, United Press International reported. Government officials urged motorists to stay home to conserve their fuel for weekday travel. Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut reported few stations open, as did Northern Virginia and Maryland.

In the Washington area, motorists may find some relief to the gas crunch by July 1 if Maryland, Virginia and District officials approve a plan by a service station association for voluntary staggered hours of operation.

The District of Columbia has already begun using its special setaside fuel supply to encourage some service stations to open during evening hours on weekdays or during the morning on weekends.

Maryland and Virginia have yet to use their allocations for similar purposes. None of the jurisdictions had been able to persuade stations to stagger their hours voluntarily.

But Vic Rasheed, executive director of the Greater Washington, Maryland Service Station Association Inc., said his group is working with dealers throughout the region to develop a voluntary plan to stagger hours, pending approval from government officials.

"It's difficult to talk to competing service station dealers to get them to stagger their hours voluntarily," Rasheed said. "There's really nothing I can do if they don't want to comply."

Rasheed said Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes has asked his organization to develop a staggered hours plan to distribute the state's setaside allocation and to persuade other stations that do not receive the set aside to stagger their hours voluntarily.

Rasheed is is also developing a staggered hours plan for District of Columbia stations that do not receive the city's special allocation.

Last Thursday, all three local governments placed into effect an odd-even system of gasoline sales. Motorists, service station attendants and government officials credited the system with reducing lines on Thursday and Friday.

Under the odd-even plan, motorists whose license plates end in odd digits can purchase gasoline only on odd-numbered calendar days; similarly, motorists whose plates end in even-numbered digits can purchase gasoline only on even-numbered days.

The system is not in effect on weekends.Yesterday, there were lines of 80 to 100 cars around those few stations in the area that remained open.

Some station operators who pumped gasoline yesterday said they would not be open again until midweek, when their new shipment of gasoline arrives.

At Steven's Exxon at Missouri and Georgia avenues NW, station attendant George Greco said the station pumped its 4,000-gallon allocation by 11 a.m., three hours after it opened. The station will not sell gasoline until Wednesday, when the next shipment arrives, he said.

Ruth Bryant of Beltsville, who sat in a line at a Citgo service station in Beltsville, was one of many who complained about the long lines.

"I drove right in here the other day," Bryant said."I couldn't believe it. It was the most wonderful feeling. I don't understand why they don't approve the odd-even system for the weekend. It defeats the whole purpose of the system." CAPTION: Picture, Anthony Foster pleads for a gallon of gasoline after NE station had closed. Photo by Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post