Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why did the geniuses planning the construction work on the Southeast/Southwest Freeway decide to shut down a number of adjacent ramps simultaneously?

The ramp at Second Street SW has been restricted for months. Meanwhile, the two adjacent ramps to the east -- South Capitol Street and Third Street SE -- have been closed indefinitely.

Commuters from the Capitol Hill area have the option of sitting on the Second Street ramp for 10 to 15 minutes or adding to the daily mess on Independence Avenue.

Why couldn't the work have been scheduled more sensibly? BOB PALMER Arlington

Dr. Gridlock knows a lot of people are upset about this. A colleague here in the newsroom complains that the closing of the Third Street on ramp has ruined her life, and glowers at me like it's my fault.

This pain comes from the latest phase of the reconstruction of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway (I-395), the segment between Third Street SE and Ninth Street SW. As part of this project, the Third Street ramp is closed, probably for another six months; the South Capitol Stret ramp onto westbound I-395 is closed for two or three months; and the Second Street SW ramp bottleneck will probably continue at least until Christmas.

Here's what George Schoene, the city's traffic czar, says about this:

"We put off the reconstruction of the Southeast-Southwest Freeway for 10 years because of traffic diversion problems. Things haven't gotten any better. I don't know what it would take to do these ramps one at a time, but it would probably add an extra year or two to the job.

"I can sympathize with this person, although he could get onto the freeway at Ninth and D streets SW instead of using the Second Street ramp or Independence Avenue. Some of the detours are fairly long. Motorists using South Capitol Street to get onto the freeway going west have to use M Street SE to M Street SW to Maine Avenue and then to 14th Street. That's just not good. This is just one of these things where everyone has to give a little to rebuild a freeway in a dense urban area."

This phase of construction should be done around the end of 1991, Schoene said. Next year, work should begin on the final two phases: the reconstruction of the Case Bridge over the Washington Channel, and the resurfacing from Second Street SE to Eighth Street SE.

Everything should be done by the end of 1992, he said. At that time, we should have a freeway that is seven lanes wide instead of the current six (Schoene is considering making the new lane reversible for rush hour), with much improved drainage and ramp access, better signs, and at long last a surface free of craters and metal plates.

That's the update. It may be small consolation for a lot of inconvenience. If you have specific problems or questions, such as the best route for a detour, drop me a line and I'll pass them onto Schoene for a response.

Bottleneck on I-270

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

For years a bottleneck has existed on Interstate Route 270 North at the Fairchild plant, just beyond the Route 118 (Germantown-Damascus) exit, where three lanes merge into two lanes.

It now appears the expansion of I-270 will bring four lanes of traffic into a two-lane bottleneck.

In addition, the Route 118 exit to Damascus backs up daily and dangerously into the I-270 northbound traffic, further aggravating the bottleneck. This is the result of Route 118 narrowing from two lanes to one just off the exit.

I-270 backs up for miles every night. Is there any relief in sight to this dangerous and frustrating daily occurrence? DENNIS C. BARTOS Germantown

Yes, relief is in sight. By the end of this year, I-270 should be widened to six lanes in each direction from the Beltway north to Route 124, and to four lanes in each direction from Route 124 to Route 118. That should speed your trip home.

You're quite right that four northbound I-270 lanes merging into two I-270 lanes at Route 118 is a problem. The state plans no temporary fix, such as long deceleration lanes using the shoulders, but feels that the squeezing at that bottleneck should be eased by the opening of a new I-270 interchange at Middlebrook Road, about a mile south of Route 118. That should siphon off a lot of northbound commuter traffic, according to Maryland highway spokeswoman Dolly Allen. The new interchange also should be finished by the end of this year.

In addition, the state plans to break ground next March for the widening of Route 118 into a six-lane, divided highway on the mile-long stretch between I-270 and Route 355. There is no completion date yet on this project. You might figure a couple of years.

Finally, the highway department hopes to widen I-270 to three lanes in each direction from Route 118 north to Route 121. The state hopes to begin work on that by the end of next year.

Bureaucratic Bumble

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My daughter and I went to the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services on Aug. 17 to apply for her learner's driving permit. The traffic safety leaflet published by the Permit Control Division states: "Important -- Social Security Card and Birth Certificate must be presented when applying for permit."

You can imagine our dismay when the official curtly refused

to accept my daughter's birth certificate because it was issued in the country in which we were living when she was born!

He insisted that "we don't accept foreign birth certificates." I pointed out that the requirements did not stipulate the country of origin, to no avail.

One of the officials at the notary window was more than helpful, and went to some trouble to try to persuade other personnel that the document was perfectly understandable, because even though she could not read the language on the document, it clearly gave pertinent names and dates, and I was ready to swear in English (as required for minors) that my daughter and I were indeed who we said we were.

That I was willing to translate the document did no good. We were even told that we should ask the embassy of the country that issued the certificate to furnish an official translation!

This helpful lady did not prevail, and we spent about 30 frustrating minutes trying to get someone to tell us what documents were acceptable to officials of the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services.

We would have been happy to present my daughter's U.S. passport, or any other document deemed necessary by the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services, had the literature stated that it would be necessary. My point is that the literature is misleading.

Given that thousands of people applying for permits of one kind or another in Washington were born in other countries, either the requirements must be clearly stated in writing, or officials must be prepared to accept what is presented -- and be courteous about it. Dozens of similar incidents must take place each day, and they only add to the unsavory reputation of D.C. public officials.

Dr. Gridlock, please use your influence to educate all but one of the officials at the D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services. MARTI VILLARREAL Washington

James Nance, deputy chief of the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services, says you have a valid concern. He said he will insert language into the instructions that make it clear that a birth certificate issued in a foreign country needs to be accompanied by an official translation, and that a U.S. passport can be used in lieu of the birth certificate.

Said Nance, "We're here to deliver a service to the public, but we can't do that if we can't read a document. I agree if something needs to be translated, we need to tell them so to keep them from making an extra trip. I have no problem doing that. We're not here to cause problems. We're here to help citizens."

School Bus Conga Line

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recently heard that school buses in Virginia are required to travel no faster than 45 mph on interstate highways and 35 mph on all other roads. We can all applaud buses maintaining conservative speeds while there are children on board, but I can't fathom the reason behind such a speed restriction while the buses are empty, traveling to and from the depot or between runs.

I've observed rather long "parades" of vehicles jockeying for opportunities to pass the slower, passenger-free buses, and the question arises whether they create an unnecessary impediment to the traffic flow. This problem seems particularly acute on two-lane stretches of Interstate Route 66 as motorists become trapped behind vacant buses traveling at less-than-the-average speed, as well as on major highways with limited passing zones (Routes 234 and 15 in my area).

Can the doctor shed some light on the legislation and justification behind the empty school bus/conga line phenomenon? GEORGE V. GRIFFITH Haymarket

According to R.A. "Buster" Bynam, Virginia's school bus transportation director, state law requires that speed governors be installed on school buses to prevent them from exceeding 45 mph (actually they could reach 48 mph if the governor is working).

This is designed to keep speed down on school buses for the safety of the children. State officials want school buses to go slow, and for the motoring public to recognize at all times that this is not just another vehicle, but something that moves slowly.

Beyond that, the buses are not constructed for high cruising speed. Their shape, axle length and gear ratios are designed for lots of stops and starts at low speed driving. "Even if there were no speed governors, their speed would top out at 50 or 51 mph" because of the gear ratio, Bynum said.

School buses are supposed to travel no faster than 35 mph, except they can go 45 mph on an interstate highway, or when empty, or when traveling from one point to another with no stops, as long as the posted speed limit permits 45 mph speed.

In your area, the school bus chief for Prince William County, James Bettis, said he will look into specific complaints. For instance, it may not be necessary that school buses use I-66. He asked that any concerns include the school bus number, the time of day and the location, and welcomes citizens to make reports to any of his staff at (703) 368-0176.

Running Red Lights

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Am I the only driver/pedestrian frustrated at the number of Metrobuses that consistently run red lights?

Every morning, when I take the D Street ramp off Interstate Route 395, I come to a light at Washington Avenue. Often there is a police officer on the other side of the intersection, yet buses routinely run the light!

Wednesday (Aug. 15), bus number 3840, headed southeast on Washington Avenue, brazenly went through a red light just as I was about to proceed through my green light.

Some day, someone is going to get killed at that intersection by a bus. DAVID F. WRIGHT Falls Church

It's not easy to drive a Metrobus. For one thing, people don't like to be behind them and they'll try to go around, sometimes cutting the bus off, other times stranding it in an intersection. Still, buses are not permitted to run red lights.

If you see this, Metro advises you to call its Office of Consumer Affairs at 637-1328, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, or write that office at 600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. Be sure to include bus number, location, time and date of the violation.

Tossing Butts

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to Christine H. Lawson's letter concerning people who toss their cigarette butts from their cars: I'm glad I'm not the only one offended by this.

I have tried several ways to express my displeasure at such people, including pulling up at the next light and politely asking them to use their ashtrays, but lately I just take a deep breath and feel frustrated.

If you look at the road next to any left turn lane, you will see hundreds of cigarette butts. Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to drivers: I have seen pedestrians displaying the same rude behavior; one gentleman walking into the Pentagon even told me that he was helping the economy by keeping the street sweepers employed.

My suggestion to correct this behavior is to make a sign saying "Please Use Your Ashtray!" and hold it up so it can be seen by the next butt flinger. This should be done in a polite and safe manner. The cooperation of police to ticket such "litterbutts" would also be effective. HARRY PAUL DORMAN Annandale

Nothing quite describes the feeling of having a lit cigarette pitched at you at a high rate of speed. Plus, the filters are non-biodegradable. GARY HYMES Baltimore

Metro Map Confusion

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Two copies of the Metrorail system map appeared in the Post on Aug. 17. One appeared in your column. It indicated that the leg extending west from the King Street station will be on the Blue Line. The other map, which appeared on Page D5, indicated that the same leg will be on the Yellow Line. I assume your map is correct, since the Yellow Line already extends south of the King Street Station. Is that correct? PAUL T. BAIRD Potomac

Yes. The stub extending west from the King Street station will be on the Blue Line. It will include the Van Dorn station, scheduled to open next year, and if funding is ever obtained, the Franconia- Springfield station. Part of the confusion over the color designation is that Metro recently changed this route from the Yellow Line to the Blue Line, and not all of us, including some within the Metro system, readily think of this as a Blue Line segment. An apology for the confusion.

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.