Three Virginia members of Congress urged Gov. Charles S. Robb yesterday to ease the commuting restrictions on Interstate Rte. 66, asking that three-person car pools be permitted to use the road during peak hours for at least a year.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill, Rep. Frank R. Wolf and Sens. John W. Warner and Paul S. Trible also recommended a reduction in the number of hours in which the rules governing HOVs--highway parlance for high-occupancy vehicles--are in force.
"I would like to emphasize that my goal is to be sensitive to the needs of our community," said Wolf. "We are not asking that the restrictions be lifted completely, but only that the HOV requirement be reduced from four persons to three persons and the hours changed slightly for a one-year trial period."
The lawmakers' proposals mark the latest round in a heated political squabble over the new 10-mile stretch of the road that began long before I-66 was opened for traffic last winter. Near-in Virginia commuters, frustrated with hour-long traffic jams on other major routes, have argued that the HOV-4 rules are unfair to lone motorists and should be abolished. Traffic planners say the present car-pool rules offer the only hope of moving large numbers of people efficiently from Northern Virginia's western suburbs to Washington each day.
Robb had no response to the proposals yesterday and said through a spokesman that he would need time to study a nine-page letter from the lawmakers. But regional transportation planning officials criticized the proposals as short-sighted solution to a long-term problem.
"It's too early to be recommending changes in the use of the road," said David F. Erion, executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. "The Shirley Highway express lanes took several years--perhaps five--to build to up their current level of use. It takes time for people to change their habits."
Alinda C. Burke, assistant general manager of Metro, said an easing of the car-pool rule would likely impede the Metro buses that carry almost 9,000 passengers along the I-66 corridor every rush hour.
Federal regulations specify that the I-66 car-pool restrictions may be modified by the Virginia Department of Highways and Transportation with the agreement of federal and area transportation officials. Virginia Highway Commissioner Harold King said recently that he would not even consider easing the HOV-4 rule until the end of the year.
The three lawmakers also suggested that the state help Northern Virginia counties create "staging areas," where lone commuters could form car pools; a study of the possible exemption of handicapped drivers from the HOV rules, and an environmental impact study of the effect of an HOV-3 restriction.
Under rules that have been in effect since the road opened last December, only cars carrying four or more passengers may use I-66 inside the Capital Beltway from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. eastbound, and from 3:30 p.m to 6:30 p.m. westbound. According to a recent study by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the restrictions are allowing the road to carry more people during peak times than if the restrictions had not been imposed.