The American Automobile Association is out with a widely publicized list of the 12 "most hazardous intersections in the Washington area" and it is worth looking at in detail.

But first, a few caveats about this well-intentioned effort. The list is not the worst dozen intersections overall in the metropolitan area because it is formed simply by taking the "worst" from each of seven localities and putting those in one list. What is awful in Alexandria may not stack up with the top 12 in the whole Metro area. Second, the criteria simply was number of accidents, which will naturally result in some of the most heavily traveled -- but not necessarily the most dangerous -- intersections making the list.

Finally, local traffic chiefs generally don't consider these the most dangerous intersections in their area. George Schoene, the District's traffic czar, says the number one intersection on the AAA's "Dirty Dozen," the horribly congested Bladensburg Road-New York Avenue corner, "is about 181st on my list of priorities" for safety.

Adds Virginia state highway spokeswoman Marianne Pastor: "I can't stress this enough: Just because there is a high number of fender-benders doesn't mean we should be concentrating on that intersection. Should we spend a money on an intersection to correct fender-benders, or one {less heavily traveled} where three people have been killed?"

Okay, now that's out of the way. What AAA's public service has done is given us an opportunity to focus on a dozen problem intersections and see what is being done about them. With the top four, in particular, there is major construction scheduled or contemplated that will affect the commutes of hundreds of thousands of drivers in the years ahead.

Here's a closeup:

New York Ave.-Bladensburg Rd.

This has long been one of the worst bottlenecks in the Metro area. About 90,000 cars a day pass through this intersection, which ranks it right up there with some of the major bridges into the city -- except there are traffic lights in the middle of this access point. Most of the 87 accidents last year, according to AAA research, were caused by drivers trying to move through yellow and red lights and getting hit by cross traffic.

The city is going to put up "mast arm" traffic lights, which extend over the roadway, to help motorists see the signals better, Schoene said. This should be done by the end of the year. That's it for now. In the long term, though, city planners would like to build an overpass there.

"We are looking for funds for investigation and design," said senior road planner Gary Burch. He estimates that an overpass would involve a lengthy study, take about two years to construct and cost $20 million or more. Burch said that although there is no money to study that in the current budget, he thinks it eventually will be built. "Certainly we are concerned enough to take a hard look at it," he said.

Please do. This is an awful, awful intersection.

Benning Rd.-Kenilworth Ave.

What's here is road spaghetti that has Benning Road traffic going over Kenilworth Avenue (also known as I-295 and the Anacostia Freeway at other points) on separate eastbound and westbound bridges, with connecting ramps of all sorts. The major problem for accidents, according to AAA's Laura Martinez, is drivers trying to merge onto Benning Road from Kenilworth Avenue. Sometimes cars come together. Schoene said the ramps are short and were built decades ago, when traffic was much lighter. Now it's 140,000 cars a day at this crossroads.

Two things will be done soon to help alleviate Benning Road traffic flow anyway.

First, the eastbound Benning bridge will be redecked. This will mean a smoother flow of traffic, Burch said, because now traffic has to creep around and over the many potholes and other defects on that bridge. Construction should start in about a month and last for a year, he said. During that time, unfortunately, the eastbound Benning Road bridge will be closed. Traffic will be rerouted to the westbound Benning Road bridge, which will handle two-way traffic. That bridge was redecked recently. "There will be delays during construction, but ultimately things will be better," Burch said.

Second, there will be a reconfiguration of a small, low-level bridge that carries traffic from northbound Kenilworth to westbound Benning. This should provide for smoother turning and merging.

Pennsylvania Ave.-Minnesota Ave.

Many of the 60 accidents at this intersection last year occurred while drivers were trying to turn left off eastbound Pennsylvania Avenue onto Minnesota Avenue. There are dual left-turn lanes there, but when the arrow goes off "people try to beat the light and then someone may shoot out of the blocks in the opposite direction and that causes the accident," AAA's Martinez said.

The broader problem is that this intersection has is heavy with traffic because so many people are using it to turn around and head back toward the city. This is because -- incredibly -- there is no direct link between I-395 North (Southeast-Southwest Freeway) and I-295 North (Kenilworth Avenue- Anacostia Freeway).

Even though these are two major roads parallel to the Anacostia River, you can't go north conveniently from one to the other.

So motorists are using Pennsylvania Avenue across the Sousa Bridge to Minnesota Avenue, then turning left and working their way back to Pennsylvania to get to the I-295 North entrance that exists on westbound Pennsylvania (got that?). About 85,000 cars a day pass through this intersection.

The solution is to reduce the volume of traffic by providing the missing freeway link, Schoene said.

There are plans to do just that.

The Barney Circle Freeway would link I-395 and I-295 via a new bridge across the Anacostia River north of the Sousa Bridge. That would allow motorists to go northbound from I-395 to I-295 and southbound from I-295 to I-395 without the Olympic slalom moves now required.

This proposed freeway is now in the design phase, with a public hearing (date not yet set) planned in about a month.

The mayor is supportive and there is no major opposition on the D.C. Council, Burch said. City planners are hopeful that Barney Circle Freeway construction will begin within two years, and be finished by 1993-94.

Franconia Rd.-Loisdale Rd.

With 55,000 cars a day, this is one of the busiest intersections in Fairfax County. It is the major crossroads between I-95 and the Springfield Mall, and is a major bottleneck, particularly on weekends. The major cause of accidents comes when drivers, some no doubt frustrated at the long delays, try to run yellow and red lights and get hit.

There are several possibilities to relieve the traffic here, but nothing is certain.

The first would be the Springfield Metrorail station, planned as the terminus of the Yellow Line, next to Springfield Mall. That is not funded, however. Local officials are working on it.

The next possibility is the extension of the I-95 HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, divided by barriers, 19 miles south from Springfield into Prince William County. Part of that project would be I-95/Franconia Road access improvements that would affect this intersection. There is a hang-up for federal funding, however. State officials are working on it.

The third option would be the completion of the Franconia Spur of the Springfield Bypass, which would terminate near Springfield Mall and relieve congestion at this intersection. There are difficulties in funding and responsibility between state, county and federal officials on this.

Any of these improvements, if they happen, would be several years away.

Arlington Blvd.-Patrick Henry Dr.

This is in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County and involves confusing and difficult turns and signals.

"We know it's a problem and discussions are under way to see if there's money to eliminate some of the difficulties," Virginia highway spokeswoman Pastor said. "It needs major reworking we haven't had the finances for. We are going to increase the number of signs and pavement markings and try and eliminate some of the conflicting movements from the service roads in that area."

Central Ave.-Brightseat Rd.

The problem here is accidents involving people trying to make left turns.

The state is going to address that by changing the lights to allow only one approach to the intersection to proceed (left and through) while the other three approaches are stopped.

Further relief for the area should come from a private developer widening nearby northbound Hampton Park Boulevard, which intersects with Central Avenue, and the state providing improved left-turn access from Central onto southbound Hampton Park.

Montgomery Village Ave. (Rte. 124)- N. Frederick Ave. (Rte. 355)

Major congestion, with problems turning left. Apparently, no improvements planned. Yeeks! More on this in another column.

Greenbelt Rd.-Lanham-Severn Rd.

The problem here was also one of numerous accidents with people making left turns. New left-turn arrows were installed last year, and better lighting is expected to be installed this year, according to Maryland state traffic engineer Andre Issayans.

The AAA's Martinez says she expects this intersection will not be as much of a problem this year.

Dale Blvd.-Minnieville Rd.

A number of improvements scheduled for this major Prince William problem.

The existing left-turn lanes on westbound Dale and southbound Minnieville will be extended this year, providing more capacity. Construction is expected to start late this year on making Minnieville four lanes on the 3.5-mile stretch from Cardinal Drive to Davis Ford Road.

Another project to relieve stress in this area is one beginning this spring to construct dual left-turn lanes from nearby Gideon Drive onto Dale, providing easier access to I-95.

King St.-Beauregard St.

About 55,000 cars a day use this major intersection in Alexandria's west end, with problems in all directions, according to AAA's Martinez. The city is looking at an overpass here, but it is not now funded.

Braddock Rd.-Van Dorn St.

A developer constructing office buildings at this intersection is being asked to provide a new street nearby, to be called Northhampton Drive, that will connect Braddock Road and King Street and that should relieve some of the stress here.

Jefferson Davis Hwy. (Rte. 1)-S. Glebe Rd.

This is on the way to National Airport, with drivers turning left from South Glebe onto Rte. 1 heading for the Airport Connector (Rte. 233) over the Alexandria train yards. Many accidents involve these left turns.

The Virginia highway department is rebuilding this intersection as part of a major reconstruction of Rte. 1 through Crystal City. Construction affecting this intersection is scheduled to start this coming

spring.

When completed next year, Rte. 1 at this point will be six lanes, divided, with improved turns to and from South Glebe.

Dr. Gridlock is Deputy Metro Editor Ron Shaffer, assisted by Anne Isaacs and Eileen Tetreault of the Metro staff. This column appears in Metro 2 each Friday to explore what makes it difficult to get around on roads, from misleading signs to parking problems to chronic bottlenecks. We'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what is being done about them. You can suggest topics by writing to DR. GRIDLOCK, c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please, no calls, and when writing include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers. AAA'S TIPS TO AVOID ACCIDENTS

Left turns & right-of-way. Think for 12 seconds before turning left, give yourself a visual lead of no less than five seconds. When approaching left-turn traffic, start turning before oncoming car does.

Broadside. Most of these accidents are caused by drivers trying to sneak through a yellow light to beat a red one. Don't attempt to beat the light.

Excessive speed. Familiarize yourself with the intersections and allow enough time to get where you're going. This lessens accident potential. Don't exceed the speed limit.

1. (87) NEW YORK AVE. & BLADENSBURG RD. NE

2. (77) BENNING RD. OVER KENILWORTH AVE. NE AT I-295

3. (60) PENNSYLVANIA & MINNESOTA AVENUES SE

4. (56) FRANCONIA & LOISDALE ROADS

5. (53) ARLINGTON BLVD. & PATRICK HENRY DR.

6. (49) CENTRAL AVE. & BRIGHTSEAT RD.

7. (48) MONTGOMERY VILLAGE & NO. FREDERICK AVENUES

8. (31) GREENBELT & LANHAM-SEVERN ROADS

9. (30) DALE BLVD. & MINNIEVILLE RD.

10. (21) KING & BEAUREGARD STREETS

11. (20) BRADDOCK RD. & VAN DORN ST.

12. (19) JEFF. DAVIS HWY. & S. GLEBE RD.