Because it would be confusing to change the confusing Capital Beltway exit-ramp numbering system, the Virginia Highway Department has dropped plans to do so.

The confusion first arose when the 67-mile Beltway, once numbered I-495 all the way around with exists numbered in 1-2-3-etc. sequence, was divided into I-95 segments (on its eastern rim) and I-495 (on the west). Two years ago, Maryland substituted a mileage-based exit numbering system, running counterclockwise, with numbers 2 to 41.

Virginia kept numbers 1-2-3-4, running clockwise, for its Beltway I-95 exits to downtown Alexandria, Telegraph Road, Van Dorn Street and Shirley Highway. Early last year, Virginia considered redesignating those four exits, in the reverse order, as exits 58, 59, 60 and 61 to pick up the I-95 numbering system that begins at the North Carolina border.

"Right now, we're going to leave the numbers the way they are," said W. C. Nelson Jr., assistant state traffic engineer. "We just felt a change would be confusing."

Melvin J. Deale, assistant divisional federal highway administrator for Virginia, said the feds "have no difficulty" with keeping things as they are. And Tom Crosby, regional government affairs director for the American Automobile Association, said his organization was pleased that Virginia wasn't going to change the signs again.

Suggestion: Why not call the Beltway I-495 all the way around, adding a second designation--I-95--and a second set of signs on its eastern rim. And then restore uniform exit-ramp numbers on the entire Beltway.