Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'd like to know Metro's policy toward panhandlers in the subway system. Recently I told a kiosk attendant of a panhandler who was on my train hitting passengers up for money and was now on the platform doing the same. The attendant's reply was not to do anything unless the panhandler was impeding traffic. Is this for real? Does Metro want our subway system to become like New York's? If so, it's good-bye ridership, good-bye political support, and good-bye funding. DAN WAGNER Washington

It's illegal to panhandle on the system, but enforcement techniques apparently are not getting at the problem. Metro police generally try to tell beggars to leave, rather than arrest them. Sometimes a second police officer will linger back to see whether panhandlers return (which they often do) and will ask them to leave again (you can imagine how effective this is). "It's not a life-threatening situation, so it tends not to get a lot of attention," said Marilyn Dicus, a Metro spokeswoman.

It is one thing to pass a panhandler on the street or in a Metro station, and it's another to have one hovering over your seat. If a panhandler is being a nuisance, Dicus advises that the passenger use the car intercom to call the train operator, who is supposed to summon Metro police to remove the person.

That is Metro's policy and it has nothing to do with impeding traffic, the spokeswoman said. Passengers can also call Metro police 24 hours a day, at 962-2121, and hope something happens.

Construction Update

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is happening on the Route 29 bridge between Stewart Lane and Industrial Parkway in Silver Spring? Several weeks ago, it appeared that the bridge was almost finished, after several years of work.

Now the center part of the roadway is being reconstructed, too. Wasn't it just redone several years ago? This seems to be the slowest bridge reconstruction in town. Is the contractor meeting his deadlines? When is the work scheduled to be completed? SHARON MORRILL Beltsville

Work here began in September 1988 and was supposed to be completed this September. The new completion date is November. Some of the delay is being blamed on weather.

When the contract is finished, the state will review the project and determine whether any penalties are appropriate.

The project is to widen the bridge from four lanes to six lanes, with shoulders. The work you may be remembering was the reconstruction not long ago of the Route 29 bridge over New Hampshire Avenue.

Road Widening Roadblocks

Speaking of long construction projects, you may recall that the Braddock Road widening in Fairfax County between Guinea Road and Roanoke Lane was projected to be completed by July 4. That was a firecracker that didn't go off. Plenty of work remains on this vital cross-county artery, which is being widened from two lanes to four lanes, divided, with turn lanes.

Two factors delayed construction:

(a) Hurricane Hugo meant that a number of Virginia Power workers who were doing utility realignment went to South Carolina to help their beleaguered brethren there.

(b) George Mason University's unsuccessful attempt to reroute major power transmission lines from the university's side of the street to the other side of the street, adjacent to a residential subdivision, cost the state an entire construction season while the dispute between the university and the neighbors was processed.

Another Deadline Blown

Dear Doc:

Would much appreciate your finding out why Central Avenue (Route 214) between Enterprise Road and Landover Road is such a mess. It's been torn up in both directions since I moved to the area one year ago, and things seem no closer to fruition now than they did 12 months ago.

When we moved into Prince George's County, Realtors assured us that the project would be completed soon. We now discover the true meaning of soon: don't hold your breath. The cars continue piling up daily, however, stretching tortuously back toward the Beltway during rush hour.

I don't understand why developers can staple a housing development together in a matter of months, but road contractors cannot finish off a one-mile highway widening project within a year. Please tell us what you can find out. JEFF WEIR Mitchellville

This is another project that is badly needed, but way behind schedule. The work started in January 1988 and was to be completed last May. Instead, it is now projected for completion in May 1991.

Major problem: the relocation of utilities proved to be much more complicated than expected, according to Janet Acree, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Highway Administration. Plus, this is a major project by state standards: $25 million to convert Central Avenue for 2.3 miles between Enterprise and Landover roads from a two-lane, twisting road, to a realigned four-lane road with turn lanes. Building it on a new, straighter alignment is more complicated than using the existing roadway, and a new bridge and culverts had to be built, Acree said.

Still, it is not quite clear why some of this couldn't have been foreseen in setting a realistic construction timetable and sticking to it. This is one of those situations -- such as the recent horrendous Beltway backup caused by ill-timed Metro construction, and the decision to close the Howard Road exit on Interstate 295 for three years -- where a detailed, independent review might be useful.

Go on the Green

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

If people would pay attention, even in rush hour, and be ready to go when the lights turn green, traffic would sometimes move more smoothly. Inattention to driving, particularly on short left-turn cycles, is a real problem in some parts of Fairfax County. Too many people drive as if there is no one behind them. In fact, there are hundreds of us. PETER KARPOFF Springfield

Dr. Gridlock 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 (please don't phone) to DR. GRIDLOCK, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.