Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Any idea when I-66 will be widened between Route 234 in Manassas and Route 15 in Haymarket?

DAVE ZAVETZ

Gainesville

The state is going to add one HOV lane and one regular lane in each direction between Routes 234 and 29 at Gainesville. I-66 is now two lanes in each direction between those points. Design and right-of-way acquisition is going to take until 2003, when construction will begin.

The project is scheduled to be completed in 2005. It will include a new interchange at I-66 and Route 29.

There is no funding in the current VDOT six-year plan to widen I-66 from Route 29 to Route 15, according to VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris.

Frankly, I'm surprised they are doing this much. VDOT would have widened I-66 to eight lanes all the way to Route 15 if the Disney's America project -- which the state was advocating so strongly -- had worked out. But when that fell through because of local opposition, I figured the state would put its interstate money elsewhere.

The widened road will serve commuters from western Prince William and Fauquier counties, as well as metropolitan area visitors to Virginia Tech, Radford and other Shenandoah Valley points off Interstate 81.

How Long to a Safer Route 28?

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Are they ever going to widen Route 28 south of Manassas? It's now a two-lane country road with heavy traffic. There have been a number of serious accidents.

I've heard rumors for years that the widening of Route 28 to four lanes is "on the books." However, I have yet to see anything being done.

MARGARET MACH

Catlett

The Virginia Department of Transportation says improving "this overcrowded commuter route is a top priority." Officials are looking to widen the road to four lanes, divided, for about 20 miles between the Route 29 intersection in Fauquier County and Godwin Drive in Prince William County.

The department notes that from 1992 to 1997, there were 564 accidents and 17 fatalities on this road. Many of the people died in horrific head-on collisions.

Although VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris says this top-priority widening is "fast-tracked," guess what: There is no timetable in the current VDOT six-year plan to even begin widening the road. The current two-lane situation apparently is going to go on being a life-and-death hazard for years.

Note to VDOT: This is not fast-tracking. If this is a top priority for VDOT, when will less important projects get done?

Here's a thought: Take the $130 million set aside for the widening of nearby Interstate 66 between Routes 234 and 29 (Gainesville) and apply it to the $114 million cost of widening Route 28. And start immediately.

Folks, please let me know if you become aware of more fatal or other serious accidents on Route 28.

No Breaks for Van Theft Victim

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A friend had his van stolen in Alexandria. It was found in Prince George's County two days later, and the Prince George's police notified my friend with a 1 a.m. phone call.

Later that day (a Sunday), he filled out the police paperwork but found the impound lot was closed. When he could return, three days later, he had to pay $160 in towing and storage charges.

Isn't it outrageous that the police would treat the victim of a crime in the same manner they treat a parking ticket scofflaw whose vehicle is towed and impounded?

My friend already was out $8,000 in equipment that was in the van, plus the cost of repairs. Wouldn't you think he has suffered enough?

HAL W. PATTISON

Alexandria

Yes. The Prince George's County police say they try to notify the owners of recovered stolen vehicles within a day, but if the vehicle is not claimed immediately, it is turned over to a towing company that charges the victim.

Dr. Gridlock checked with another large suburban police force -- that of Fairfax County -- and it handles the situation the same way.

Prince George's police said the volume of stolen cars recovered -- more than 1,000 a month in the county in 1998 and through the first quarter of this year -- makes it impossible to process them without using a subcontractor.

Any police lot would have to be staffed round-the-clock to receive the more than 30 stolen vehicles recovered a day, according to Lt. Andrew Ellis, a police spokesman.

With that kind of volume, it's hard to argue that police should take responsibility.

Do you have any recommendations?

Contesting That Parking Ticket

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I read in your column (Dr. Gridlock, May 17) about the D.C. driver who was determined to protest her parking ticket, I wondered if she, and others who want to protest a ticket, realize that it is possible to insist on the presence of the parking enforcement officer at the hearing.

Though I'd been told a number of times that the only way to protest a parking ticket was either to sit for hours and wait for a hearing that day as a walk-in, or to protest the ticket by mail, a little research at the public library revealed that I was getting misinformation.

Under Title 18, Section 3008.3 (a) of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, a person has the right to request a hearing in advance for a parking violation and to require the presence of the issuing officer at the hearing.

To do so, simply check the "Deny" box on the ticket and go to the Bureau of Adjudication at 65 K St. NE to request the hearing in person.

I've done it (carrying a copy of the regulations with me), and it is the same procedure (and the same line) as if you are protesting a moving violation.

You also have the right to cross-examine the issuing officer, under Section 3012.4. Thus, if you've requested his presence, and he doesn't appear for cross-examination, the ticket will be dismissed. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone opted to have such a hearing?

In addition to putting the proper burden on the ticketing authority -- that is, requiring them to produce a live witness to prove their case or risk dismissal -- there is an added benefit: You can schedule your hearing for a certain date, and you ultimately won't wait near as long that day to have your case heard.

JAMES YEAGER

Washington

This is good information. Dr. Gridlock checked with Adam Mayer, staff director of the D.C. Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment, and he confirmed it. "It's on the principle that everyone has a right to face his accuser," Mayer said. To those who use this information, good luck and please let me know how it goes.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday in Prince William Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.