The following inquiry allows us to take a look at the status of the Capital Crescent Trail, a path for bicyclists and hikers that will run between Georgetown and Bethesda, and possibly on to Silver Spring. Commuters along this path will be able to connect with Rock Creek Park trails and wind up at the Capitol. With so much of our area gridlocked at rush hour, such alternative efforts are welcome: Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The Crescent Trail is wonderful. Parts of it are in use now. You can bike from downtown Bethesda to Canal Road. The trail goes through dense woods, where you can see raccoons and deer. You see kids on training wheels, seniors, roller-bladers. It's packed on weekends.

However, a dangerous problem exists at the trail's crossing at River Road. There is no traffic light, and trail users have to hunt for gaps in very heavy traffic and then dart across five lanes of traffic. Sometimes you see people with small children stranded in the median, waiting to get to the other side.

This crossing is really an invitation to trouble. I think someone is going to get hit. Anything being done about it? JERRY KNIGHT Chevy Chase

Yes. The Maryland State Highway Administration has directed $550,000 in federal money to Montgomery County officials to build an overpass for the Crescent Trail at River Road. Construction should begin this spring, with completion scheduled for July.

Meanwhile, the crossing you describe "is indeed an extremely scary situation," said Ellen Jones, director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. She advises people to walk a block north on River Road to the traffic light at Little Falls Parkway, cross River Road and walk back to the trail. That might take five minutes or so. ("Good idea, but I don't think people will do it," Knight said).

What is causing a problem here is that people are using the trail at River Road even though it is not officially open at that point. They are using it because it is finished on either side and looks done, and nothing is preventing them from using it. This segment is not "officially" open because the overpass isn't constructed. The county has put caution signs at the intersection, according to Bill Gries, of the parks department.

The only part of the Capital Crescent Trail officially open is from its terminus at Bethesda Avenue to Little Falls Parkway, a little less than a mile. That section opened in April.

The eight-mile Capital Crescent Trail has been a dream of hikers, joggers and bicyclists for many years. It is being constructed in the right of way of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, whose tracks once brought coal from Silver Spring to a power plant on the Potomac River in Georgetown.

When that run was abandoned in 1984, an advocacy process began that resulted in the National Park Service and Montgomery County owning the land and agreeing to a hiking-biking trail.

An astonishing number of agencies have been cooperating in the construction: Potomac Electric Power Co. built the segment from Bethesda to Little Falls Parkway in exchange for easement considerations elsewhere; Montgomery County has built the segment from Little Falls Parkway to the District line, with financial assistance from Maryland and the federal government and planning from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Arlington County is building a stretch near the Dalecarlia Reservoir in the District because Arlington, which taps into water there, is doing work on the pipelines under the trail; the National Park Service (with the Federal Highway Administration handling construction) is working on the segment that begins near the reservoir, crosses a bridge at Canal Road NW and runs along the C&O Canal into Georgetown, where the trail ends (or begins) near K Street NW under the Whitehurst Freeway.

Arlington expects to be done with its segment by the end of the year. The National Park Service is done with its portion, except for the bridge over Canal Road at Arizona Avenue. There the contractor has run into trouble removing lead-based paint, among other problems. The government has asked for an explanation for the delay. Meanwhile, work has halted and there is no indication when it might be finished.

Montgomery County is studying the construction of a trail segment from Bethesda to Silver Spring. That is being looked at in concert with the possibility of a light-rail extension that would connect the Metro Red Line's Bethesda and Silver Spring stations over the former B&O right of way. Any design for the Capital Crescent trail there would have to wait until a determination is made on the light-rail line.

When the entire trail is finished, it ought to be something to behold. "It will be one of the great urban trails in the country," said Gries, the Montgomery parks official.

Jones, of the bicyclists group, said, "It is the bike superhighway."

Old railroad rights of way are ideal for bike trails because they are wide and relatively flat, she said. There is a growing movement to convert more rail rights of way to bikeways, particularly in urban areas.

Maybe we've got to get back to the basics to get around. First back to bicycles. Then maybe we can work our way up to streetcars. Dear Dr. Gridlock: Your Jan. 19 column accurately outlined the myriad transportation improvements that are underway in Northern Virginia. You seem to have . . . given credit to Gov. George Allen for all this activity.

Most of the funds for the transportation projects cited by Virginia Secretary of Transportation Robert Martinez were the result of legislative actions initiated by former governor Gerald Baliles and approved by the 1986 General Assembly.

These actions included additional state funding of $425 million per year and the establishment of special funds and statutory allocation formulas for mass transit, ports and airports. This transportation initiative was unanimously supported by the Northern Virginia delegation and has benefited all transportation modes in Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth ever since.

In fact, state funding for transportation has not been increased since 1986.

Specifically: The Dulles Toll Road widening was the recommendation of a citizens group established during the Wilder administration, and the bonds will be retired using tolls largely paid by local citizens. The construction of an improved I-95/395/495 interchange, the extension of the I-95 HOV lanes to Quantico and the additional lanes on I-66 between Route 50 and Centreville were initiated and the funds allocated during the Wilder administration under the able stewardship of his Secretary of Transportation, John Milliken. Most of the recently authorized funds ($271 million) for the Fairfax County Parkway, the Route 234 Bypass, improvements to Route 7 in Loudoun County and the Franconia-Springfield Metrorail station were the initiative of local governments and the Northern Virginia legislative delegation. Approximately $190 million in bonds have been issued, with the debt service being paid by local recordation tax revenues. This effort began in 1993, before Gov. Allen was elected. The column quotes Secretary Martinez as stating the extension of HOV lanes to Gainesville "remains a critical need." That's interesting. Despite the fact that this project is a critical regional need, the state currently has no plans or funding to extend the HOV lanes west of Route 234 or to construct a new interchange at Gainesville. The Dulles Greenway was initiated during the Baliles administration, and construction began during the Wilder administration.

The plain facts are that virtually every project cited by Secretary Martinez was initiated by others prior to the Allen administration. The funding is formula-driven by state statute, local user fees or other local revenues, and was put in place during prior administrations. Gov. Allen and Secretary Martinez have initiated virtually nothing during their tenure except the additional Dulles Toll Road lanes, which will be paid for by Northern Virginians.

The big issue not addressed by the Allen administration is: How will it address the many other critical transportation needs in Northern Virginia and around the state? In a just-released 20-year needs study, Secretary Martinez found that Virginia's transportation needs over the next 20 years total $46.4 billion, or $2.3 billion annually.

In response to a question concerning the source of the revenues to meet these needs, he responded that he was not . . . required {by statute} to furnish that information.

As a matter of fact, Gov. Allen told Virginia in his first State of the State message that he would do nothing to enhance transportation revenues.

The Allen administration's transportation cupboard is bare. No new initiatives. No program to provide the necessary revenues to keep Northern Virginia out of permanent gridlock. Instead, a weak recitation of projects adopted and funded by others with no plan for the future. SEN. JOSEPH V. GARTLAN (D-Mount Vernon) DEL. KENNETH R. PLUM (D-Reston) Virginia General Assembly Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was distressed to hear of the letter of Delegate Plum and Senator Gartlan. I have worked with both of these gentlemen and plan to remain responsive to their concerns as elected representatives of their districts, despite their unfair characterization of our efforts. Regarding transportation funding: It is obvious that no project can be conceptionalized, funded and completed within the four-year term of a governor. But as your column pointed out, you were checking up on candidate George Allen's promises to support current transportation plans and build on them. As accurately reported, he has kept his campaign promises.

Not only has Governor Allen maintained transportation funding, but he has vowed NOT to raid the Transportation Trust Fund (which the past Democratic governor and General Assembly did to cover other government spending). Additionally, between the increased bond funding for Northern Virginia transportation projects, increased efficiencies in state government and increased economic activity, the funding for transportation has increased since Governor Allen's inauguration. Regarding the Dulles Toll Road: Authorizing legislation for additional funding for this road was introduced in the General Assembly this session on behalf of the governor by Delegate William C. Mims (R-Leesburg). Delegate Plum has signed onto this legislation. Regarding the Springfield interchange: Candidate Allen answered that he would support this important project, and in fact, it was only this year that the design for the first phase was actually approved, with the modification to provide for single-occupancy vehicle access between I-95 and the Fairfax County Parkway (a change we initiated at the state level after requests from Fairfax County officials). Regarding the authorized funds for the Fairfax County Parkway, Route 234 Bypass, Route 7 improvements, and the Franconia-Springfield Metro station: Governor Allen said he would support these projects, and he has. In fact, during last year's General Assembly session, he supported legislation, passed by the General Assembly, to increase the authorized funds for these projects by 50 percent. In Governor Allen's State of the Commonwealth speech, he vowed NOT TO RAID THE COMMONWEALTH'S ROAD CONSTRUCTION FUND for any reason. The previous administration, with which the gentlemen were associated, reduced the transportation trust funds, diverting $195 million for NON-TRANSPORTATION purposes (in fiscal years 1991 and 1992). Finally, the subject that excites me most -- the future. As the gentlemen rightly point out, the privately funded Dulles Greenway was begun under Governor Baliles, and at the time was a cutting-edge idea. Unfortunately, other states have passed us in the race for private capital, so during this General Assembly season, Governor Allen has forwarded the Public Private Transportation Act, which will put Virginia back into the lead in this exciting area, which has been a fully bipartisan effort.

I could go on about our plans . . . but anyone interested might contact my office for a copy of VIRGINIA CONNECTIONS, our recently published strategic plan for transportation in Virginia.

Northern Virginia received 26 percent of total highway allocations this year and 76 percent of total public transit support -- $230 million and $140 million, respectively -- as well as the overwhelming bulk of state-supported transportation debt. Northern Virginia's population is under 24 percent of Virginia's total.

I will continue to work with both these gentlemen, and any other interested parties in the area, to do the best we can for Northern Virginia. ROBERT E. MARTINEZ Virginia Secretary of Transportation

Let's say this on these two letters: Democrats have contributed greatly to transportation improvements in Northern Virginia. They have received credit in The Washington Post as those events took place. That is particularly true in the last decade after many decades in which this area did not get its fair share of state resources, contributing to the transportation quagmire that now exists.

The progress report on Gov. Allen's campaign promises and accomplishments so far did not intend to slight previous administration or legislative achievements. However, the sitting administration does have enormous latitude on setting priorities and determining which projects statewide will receive further funding. It is good to see Gov. Allen supporting so many important projects in Northern Virginia, including ones launched by Democratic administrations.

Dr. Gridlock appears in this section each Thursday to explore local transportation matters. He'll try to find out why bad situations exist and what can be 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. Letters may be edited. Please do not send letters that you do not wish published, or ones that request the name be withheld. You may include photos of a particular situation, but they cannot be returned.