Four Virginia members of Congress announced yesterday that they will propose legislation to ease commuting restrictions on Interstate Rte. 66, permitting three-person car pools to use the road during peak hours for at least a year.
Sens. John Warner and Paul S. Trible Jr. and Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Stan Parris, all Republicans, also said they will try to reduce the number of hours in which the rules governing HOVs--highway parlance for high-occupancy vehicles-- are in force.
"This highway was paid for by the taxpayers," said Warner. "It is our collective opinion that the highway is vastly underutilized, which is not in the best interests of Northern Virginia commuters."
The announcement yesterday marked the latest round in a two-decade political squabble over the construction and use of the recently completed road linking the District and the Capital Beltway in Fairfax County. Many commuters have argued that HOV restrictions limiting the highway to four-passenger vehicles during rush hour are unfair to lone motorists who must cope daily with other traffic-clogged routes. Traffic planners say the car-pool rules offer the only hope of moving large numbers of people from Northern Virginia's western suburbs to Washington.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works yesterday, Warner said he will offer I-66 amendments to pending legislation until he succeeds in winning congressional approval for easing the restrictions.
The Warner amendment, cosponsored by Trible, would direct the U.S. secretary of transportation to:
* Allow three-person car pools on I-66 during restricted hours;
* Establish morning restrictions on eastbound lanes between 7 and 9 a.m., instead of the 6:30 to 9 a.m. hours now in force;
* Set evening restrictions on westbound lanes between 4 and 6 p.m., instead of 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.; and
* Conduct an environmental assessment to determine the effect of the rule changes.
Warner spokesman Peter A. Loomis said the first target for amendement is likely to be an emergency highway relief bill that is due on the Senate floor within the next few weeks.
Gov. Charles S. Robb, a Democrat, has said that he would consider easing the restrictions after the Dulles Connector, linking the Dulles Access Road and I-66, is opened this fall. Virginia Secretary of Transportation Andrew Fogarty said yesterday the governor was not consulted on Warner's proposal.
Warner, Trible and Wolf called on Robb last spring to ease the commuting restrictions. The proposal drew criticism from regional transportation planning officials, who characterized the suggestion as a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem.