Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What would it take to fix traffic obstructions at the intersection of Routes 50 and 15 at Gilbert's Corner in Loudoun County?

I am wondering why the highway department can't make a turn lane for northbound Route 15 traffic trying to turn east onto Route 50.

As it is now, the through traffic on two-lane Route 15 backs up, and the right-turning traffic has to wait with it.

The same goes for the other three directions, although northbound Route 15 is the one most backed up in the mornings.

Are there any plans for improvements at Gilbert's Corner?

P.S. Maybe we could get Sen. Warner to travel it about 7 or 8 in the morning. Then I bet something would get done.

David Thomas

Hume, Fauquier County

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) undoubtedly is familiar with Gilbert's Corner, since he lived just south of Route 50 in Fauquier County when he was married to actress Elizabeth Taylor, and he commuted to Capitol Hill.

And it's likely that not much has been done to improve that intersection since those long-ago days.

Readers tell me northbound Route 15 traffic backs up for a mile or two in the morning.

The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to convert the intersection into a large roundabout that would eliminate traffic signals and keep traffic moving in all directions. The roundabout would also serve as a right-turn-only lane from northbound Route 15.

Construction on the $8.9 million project would probably begin in the summer or fall of 2007, according to Ryan Hall, a VDOT spokesman. The project is funded.

I appreciate VDOT's trying to save money by not constructing a turn lane that might have to be destroyed when building the roundabout. However, since any relief appears about three years away, and since we have a crisis at that intersection, I wonder whether VDOT could reconsider and install a right-turn lane from northbound Route 15 now. That would ease the burden for a lot of commuters.

Dulles and HOV

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is the afternoon HOV rule for westbound Interstate 66? I use it coming from the District, where the signs say that from 4 to 6:30 p.m., HOV-2 for Dulles International Airport traffic is allowed.

One might assume from those signs that I could drive solo on Interstate 66 during HOV hours as long as I am going to Dulles.

One might also assume that saying one is going to Dulles would be a valid defense to an HOV violation ticket. But I don't think that's the case, because every day I see cars pulled over by the police on the entrance ramps in Arlington and farther west, presumably for HOV violations.

I doubt that the cops would be pulling people over if the drivers could avoid a ticket simply by saying that they are going to Dulles, even if they aren't.

Any illumination would be greatly appreciated.

Ted Steele

Vienna

It helps to have a document -- an airline ticket, passenger receipt or itinerary -- as proof of your Dulles destination. For those who don't, Virginia State Police have developed a set of questions that help them to determine whether the solo motorist is actually going to Dulles. Police are understandably reluctant to share those questions.

P.S. Even if you stop at Dulles just for a cup of coffee or to buy a newspaper, you qualify for a Dulles exemption from HOV rules in the morning rush. Some people do that and then take the Dulles Access Road and Interstate 66 inbound all the way to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Put On That Plate

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid does not have any place to attach a front plate. What am I to expect from the traffic police?

Lauren Merritt

Reston

A fine of $250 per citation. Plus, if you park in the District, the city's parking control aides will write you up in a heartbeat for failure to display a front tag if you live in a state that requires one.

Virginia, Maryland and the District require license plates front and rear. It's the law. And it's your responsibility to see that plates are mounted in front. They don't have to be positioned dead center, but they have to be in front. There is no license plate fairy to mount front plates or grant exemptions for some vehicles.

I wouldn't accept a new or used vehicle that didn't have mounted license plate frames, front and rear, and at least temporary license plates in them. I'd write that into the sales contract and make the local dealer install them. It's illegal to drive off their lot without front tags.

If you already have a car without front plates, take the problem to your mechanic, pronto.

Recycling License Plates

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have tried unsuccessfully for some time now to find out from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles whether any license plate recycling programs exist in the area. If Northern Virginia does not have such a program, does the District or Maryland?

Thank you very much for your assistance, both in this matter and in all of the useful information you provide weekly. Your column is a must-read for me every Thursday!

Clara Ohr

Alexandria

I am inferring from your letter that you wish to recycle your own license plates. If so, that would not be a good idea. Virginia law requires that you return unneeded license plates to your DMV branch.

You don't want them floating around where they might be used by a car thief. I get sad letters about that problem from people who have donated vehicles to charity and have neglected to remove and turn in their license plates.

P.S. The Virginia DMV does recycle license plates, according to spokeswoman Pam Goheen.

Slug Line Slowing Traffic

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

While I understand that slugging increases carpooling, a major slug pickup point in the District on 19th Street NW between F and E streets is causing traffic problems.

The pickup point is in a No Standing/No Parking lane. It really disrupts rush-hour traffic on 19th Street and creates a hazard as cars with slugs merge back into the flow.

Many of those vehicles also ignore the right-turn-only rule for their lane and proceed straight ahead.

I do not know whether the slug pickup point is legal or illegal. This one seems to have appeared recently, and it is popular.

What can be done to have this practice stopped or moved to a better and safer area?

Pamela Bigart

McLean

I've checked with city officials about a similar situation of slug pickup points tying up evening rush hours on outbound 14th Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and the 14th Street Bridge.

Here is the city's position.

1) District officials would be happiest if everyone commuted into the city via mass transit or carpools, reducing gridlock and wear on the city road system.

2) Slugging, or the impromptu formation of carpools at designated pickup points, is recognized as an efficient way to get people in and out of the city.

3) Therefore, the city is reluctant to do anything to affect slugging pickup points, even if they appear to be in violation of posted signs.

4) Not only that, but city officials suggest that solo commuters bothered by the pickup points should join one of the carpools that are slowing their commute.

I have other suggestions for you to consider:

Bypass the 19th Street bottleneck by heading west on K Street NW onto the Whitehurst Freeway, exiting at Key Bridge and then entering the George Washington Memorial Parkway on the Virginia side of the bridge. You can exit the outbound parkway at Route 123 into the heart of McLean. Or take Canal Road NW outbound to a left onto Chain Bridge and from there onto Route 123 in McLean.

Or, check out 21st or 23rd streets NW southbound, although I keep hearing that those are difficult because of illegally parked vehicles.

Other than that, ask your supervisor if you can work at home, or check out the alternate transportation options on www.commuterconnections.com. Good luck, and keep me posted.

Driving Schools

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

What is the name of the driving school you have recommended for teenagers? It was a school that taught defensive driving skills: skids, driving in bad weather, etc.

Caroline Enterline

Great Falls

Readers recommend Car Guys Inc. of Rockville (800-800 GUYS) or BSR Inc. of Summit Point, W.Va., just over the Loudoun County line (304-725-6512). Also Driver's Edge (702-896-6482) of Las Vegas has drawn many favorable reviews, but it comes to our area only once a year or so. It holds clinics at the FedEx Field parking lots.

All three schools offer one-day courses. The first two cost between $200 and $300, and Driver's Edge is free.

I commend you for looking into these courses. They can only help our young drivers.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in The Extra and Sunday in the Metro section. You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers.