Members of a group pressing for construction of interstate highway bypasses around the Washington area said yesterday they will begin lobbying Maryland and Virginia highway officials for stiffer traffic fines, reduced speed limits and other measures to relieve congestion on the Capital Beltway.
Member of DO IT (Develop Outer Interstate Thruways) said Wednesday's snowstorm, which blocked portions of the Beltway and left hundreds of motorists stranded for hours, illustrates the need for better means of responding to highway emergencies as well as routine traffic tie-ups.
"It really showed what a mess we've got," said former representative Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), chairman of the group.
At a news conference yesterday, Barnes and several Washington area radio station traffic reporters who have joined DO IT unveiled a 10-point proposal they said would provide interim relief from traffic snarls on the Beltway pending construction of the proposed bypass routes.
Among the proposals were a fivefold or greater increase in fines for violating high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) restrictions during rush hour; reducing to 40 mph or less speed limits on difficult stretches such as the winding area near the Mormon Temple in Montgomery County; placing tow trucks at trouble spots during peak traffic hours, and equipping state police cruisers with "push bumpers" to move disabled autos off the highway.
"This is short-term stuff," said Barnes. "These are things we can do right away."
Barnes gave no timetable for implementing the proposals, but said the group already has approached officials in Annapolis and Richmond and hopes to step up lobbying efforts in the near future.
Headed by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and officials from several area businesses, DO IT was formed this year around proposals for regional highways that would skirt the Washington area through Maryland and Virginia.
Officials from the two states, originally at odds over whether to run one bypass route east or west of the city, agreed in August to jointly finance a study of options for a Washington bypass.
But Barnes and other members of DO IT said yesterday that some steps should be taken immediately to relieve congestion on the Beltway.
Veteran traffic reporters cited the Woodrow Wilson Bridge as an area of particular concern, saying motorists could benefit from better communication between Virginia and Maryland police. They also proposed stationing a towing crane at the bridge capable of moving disabled tractor trailers from the span.
DO IT also recommended stiff new fines for motorists who drive on the shoulder during traffic jams, potentially blocking access for emergency vehicles trying to reach accident scenes, and stepped-up enforcement of speed limits around the Beltway.