In the last 14 months, thousands of commuters on Shirley Highway have gotten a rude awakening as they attempted to bend the rules a bit in their efforts to make their way to or from work:
Waiting for them beneath their familiar broad-brimmed hats have been as many as eight Virginia state troopers, ticket pads in hand, strewn out along that portion of I-395 inside the Captial Beltway, eager to enforce everything from speed laws to codes that forbid driving on the shoulders of the highway to bypass traffic jams.
It's all part of a crackdown that began in February 1982 and was expanded in December to include the new portion of I-66, and has resulted in an estimated 11,000 drivers being given citations for various violations.
Before the program began, only one trooper was assigned to the 12 miles of Shirley Highway (I-395) at any given time, said Sgt. Dennis Robertson of the state police's Arlington office.
Today, 20 troopers divide their three shifts between I-395 and the newly opened I-66 around the clock as part of the state police's new traffic management system.
Only four troopers are on the midnight to 7 a.m. shift. The other 16 work on two different day shifts, varying their numbers on each road from day to day to keep would-be scofflaws off guard, Robertson said.
"There's no definite pattern, so the public won't be able to anticipate whether there's stricter enforcement out there," Robertson said. "You could have two troopers on 66 and six on 395 one day and the reverse the next day" on the different shifts.
The keep-'em-guessing ploy apparently is working. Last month, for example, state troopers cited 1,345 citizens at all hours on both highways for a variety of violations that ranged from drunken driving to improper passing on the shoulder of the road, Robertson said.
That amounts to a 22 percent increase in citations over the same period in 1982 when the program was just getting underway, he said.
"There's been a tremendous increase in citations over the past 14 months," according to Robertson, who said that earlier statistics are unavailable. "We were probably issuing only a fraction of that before."
One of the violations that seems to irk rush-hour commuters most is the driver who decides to knock 15 to 20 minutes off the traveling time by cruising along I-395's shoulder lanes and then cutting back into a traffic lane when he spies a trooper. There is no such problem on I-66, Robertson said, because there is rarely any backup during the rush hours thanks to the four-passenger-per-car (HOV-4) rule.
"The backup on I-395 seems to start each morning just north of Glebe Road or Washington Boulevard and gets bad around the Pentagon," Robertson said. "Anywhere there's a traffic backup, they're going to drive on the shoulder of the road."
"It's a fairly common occurrence both in the morning and the evening rush hours," said Trooper Perry J. Freeman, who has issued his share of $35 tickets to motorists driving along I-395's shoulder. "If we're tied up with an accident or something else, we can't always do something about them."
"I'd say it's a big problem," Sgt. Kenneth W. Grant said. "As far as enforcement goes, we catch quite a few doing it but not all of them. They do it every morning and evening, and they're going to keep doing it as traffic backs up and they're in a hurry."