Say it ain't so, Doc! They're in the final stages of widening the Maryland Beltway and now I hear Virginia is going to BEGIN the widening process of the Virginia Beltway from the American Legion Bridge to Route 193. Am I going nuts, or wouldn't it have made sense for the two jurisdictions to have screwed up traffic concurrently rather than consecutively?

I understand this will mean 18 more months of aggravation. If these local transportation officials play their cards right, they can fix it so that the poor souls who dare to work in Virginia and choose to live in Maryland will NEVER get to work at a reasonable hour, or home in time for dinner. JAMES E. AQUINO Rockville

Of course it would have made more sense to do them at the same time. At the time Maryland began its project, though, Virginia didn't have the money. "It's like home improvements; you can't do it until you have the money," said highway department spokeswoman Mary Anne Reynolds. "Federal dollars for interstate improvements have not been flowing to Virginia in recent years as rapidly as we would like."

The federal interstate allocation has increased by $30 million this year and Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has stationed a full-time lobbyist on Capitol Hill to help obtain funds, but the impression lingers that Maryland has been far more successful in acquiring federal funds for interstate improvements than Virginia. Maryland's widening of the Beltway between River Road and the American Legion Bridge, the widening of I-270, and the conversion of U.S. Route 50 to an interstate highway involve about $500 million. Northern Virginia has nothing going on this scale.

The Virginia Beltway project you refer to will widen the Beltway from three to four lanes and improve connecting ramps with the George Washington Parkway. It should take 18 months. Meantime, highway officials will try to keep closed the same lanes as on the Maryland side of the American Legion Bridge. The Maryland Beltway widening should be done by the end of this year. Meantime, take some comfort in knowing that if you're not having dinner at a regular time because of traffic, you've got plenty of company. Five Years of Work at an End

Speaking of interstate improvements, Maryland on Wednesday will open I-195, a four-mile spur connecting I-95 with Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The four-lane road will also have interchanges with Route 1 and the Baltimore-Washington Expressway (the northern stretch of the parkway). It will allow folks to travel between the expressway and I-95 in a much faster way than the existing network of mostly rural roads. The project cost $78 million and took five years, in part because of the interchanges and bridges over the Patapsco River. Widening the New York Avenue Bridge Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When will the New York Avenue Bridge, near the intersection of South Dakota Avenue, be widened from two lanes to three lanes in each direction? Maryland is rapidly completing the conversion of U.S. Route 50 to interstate standards, including three lanes in each direction from the District line all the way to Annapolis. How much longer will motorists going eastward from the District be slowed to a snail's pace by the present narrow bridge over the railroad tracks? RICHARD ENGLAND Landover

Hardly a week goes by that the doctor doesn't get a letter about this bottleneck. Good news/bad news here. The good: the city recognizes the problem; the bad: it's going to take a long time to fix it.

Last year the city finished reconstructing six lanes of New York Avenue from Bladensburg Road to the railroad bridge. Next comes the widening of the bridge to six lanes, and the reconstruction of New York Avenue for six lanes to the District line. The bridge work is under design, and the remaining roadwork is about to be. The very sad reality here is that it apparently will be about two more years before work on the bridge begins, and the bridge and the rest of the roadwork may not be finished before 1994 or 1995. More condolences. A Matter of Wishful Thinking Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was intrigued by your report May 18 of police policies that had curbed traffic violations in New Orleans {police making motorists appear downtown immediately to resolve moving violations}. It is proof positive that the police have it in their power to prevent traffic violations, particularly if backed up by the courts.

Anyone who has ever been to the West Coast has been impressed by the way cars yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, even in the middle of a block. Many years ago, while riding in a taxi in Los Angeles, I told the driver that I admired the way he always yielded to pedestrians. "Mister," he replied, "in this town if you don't yield to a pedestrian they put you in jail and throw the key away."

The next day I noticed an item in the paper about a driver who had been found guilty of failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian. The judge gave him three months!

Can we do it here? SAMUEL J. ROSENBERG Washington

It doesn't look like it. There seems to be little interest here in any substantive change to deal with traffic violations other than official hopes for more "voluntary compliance." So far that appears to be wishful thinking. Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Re: "voluntary compliance": I think the police have hit on a good thing here. Think how much easier it would be for firemen if we all put out our own fires. And I'm sure the ambulance drivers would appreciate it if we would drive ourselves to the emergency room. The possibilities are endless.JACK HIRRLINGER Davidsonville, Md. Political Problems, Political Solutions Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Jack Herrity's claim that local jurisdictions are impotent to control development is basically true, but he is wrong to blame it on the failure of the Virginia General Assembly to give local jurisdictions enough authority.

It is more accurate to say that beginning in the 1950s, the courts progressively gutted the laws delegating such authority to local governments, and that neither the representatives we sent to Richmond nor our local elected officials -- including Jack Herrity -- found the wherewithal to stand up to this blatant ursurpation of legislative powers.

In 1955, voters concerned about rapid development in Fairfax County installed a slow-growth board of supervisors. In a 1958 decision, the Virginia Surpreme Court overturned that board's denial of a zoning petition, rejecting the board's contention that it could not afford to pay for additional infrastructure and stating that the "financial condition of the county could be improved and corrected by imposing higher taxes."

Fairfax voters elected another slow-growth board in 1971. In 1974 the court held that the new board was not a "changed circumstance" justifying downzoning.

In 1975, the court stated that "facilities follow development and cannot be deferred in order to achieve economies in the expenditure of public funds."

In another 1975 case, the court held that the developer's preferred land use could be accommodated "by an accelerated building program, temporary classrooms, extending the school day, going on a double shift, realignment of school district lines and transporting children from congested areas to areas where there were vacant or unfilled classrooms."

Is it any wonder that there are nothing BUT "congested areas" in Northern Virginia after 35 years of this kind of judicial imperialism in the service of the developers?

Our traffic woes are primarily a political problem, and the solution must be primarily political. We will begin to get relief from our congestion and frustration when every one of us takes the following pledge:

"Never again will I vote for any candidate for the General Assembly or my county board of supervisors who takes a single dollar from any developer. Never again will I vote for any candidate who spends more than two terms in Richmond without new legislation restraining the judicial branch and re-empowering local governments to control development." FRANK W. CREEL Woodbridge Confusion on Canal Road Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Sign posted on northbound Canal Road. STAN NADONLEY Rockville

Well, this should clear things up. The sign is posted within the city limits, just past Arizona Avenue. The doctor drove out there this week, and there seem to be two such signs. They are supposed to indicate that there are two lanes inbound and one outbound in the morning rush hour, two lanes outbound and one inbound the rest of the time.

Apparently, someone involved with signs has been exposed to too much exhaust. George Schoene, the city's traffic chief, said he will check it.

Here's more on Canal Road, which is a three-lane road beginning at Arizona Avenue and proceeding outbound, but is only two lanes from Georgetown to Arizona Avenue. This two-lane segment becomes one-way during rush hours (no reversible lanes). Confused? Read on: Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I faced death this morning trying to drive away from town.

About 9:45 a.m. the traffic light where M Street forks into Canal Road and MacArthur Boulevard showed a green arrow for the left fork onto Canal. There were no signs or police barricades indicating that Canal Road was anything but open.

Imagine my surprise to round the first curve and see a car heading directly at me at high speed. A number of other cars followed. There were no shoulders, no side streets, very short visibility (because of the curves) and nowhere to go. After about three-quarters of a terrifying mile I found a right turn (which said "Do Not Enter") that I used to turn around and head back toward Georgetown. At that side street, there was a sign showing that Canal Road was closed to outbound traffic until 10 a.m. This was about one mile -- and potentially several lives -- too late.

When I finally got to M Street again and reversed direction to go west, this time taking the fork up MacArthur, I noticed the green left turn signal on and other cars trying to follow the road I had taken.

What's going on? If Canal Road is closed, then someone had better post a sign and turn off the green left arrow. This is very dangerous and could be fatal. Please alert the proper authorities. MICHELE RIGRODSKY Washington

Schoene said he will check to see whether there is a misleading left-turn arrow. If so, it can be blipped out during the appropriate time by the city's computerized traffic signal system. He says that there is an electric sign stationed at the entrance to Canal Road warning motorists that it is one-way during rush hours, inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. The doctor checked on Tuesday evening and didn't notice an electric sign. There is a sign attached to the traffic light just before you take the fork onto Canal Road. The sign says no left turn until 10:10 a.m., but I can see how it can be missed.

Dr. Gridlock appears in Metro 2 each Friday. You can suggest topics by writing (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.