THANK HAROLD KING, Virginia's highway commissioner, for the latest atrocity on the Capital Beltway. He is the genius behind the renumbering of four Beltway exits: Richmond, Telegraph, Van Dorn and Shirley. Formerly they were Exits 1, 2, 3 and 4 in a Beltway sequence starting at the Potomac in Alexandria. Now they will be 61, 60, 59 and 58, in an I95 sequence starting at the North Carolina border. That's right: two unrelated sets of Virginia Beltway exit numbers, going in opposite directions. Congratulations, Harold King.

Some of you, of course, are still numb with rage at the neat trick that Maryland's highway department played on the Beltway last year. It renumbered its Beltway exits, breaking the continuity with the Virginia system of exits numbered in a single sequence and moving to a "log miles" system of numbering exits by their distance from a set point, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. So instead of Maryland's exits being numbers 15 through 38 clockwise, they're now numbered 2 (meaning two miles from Woodrow Wilson) through 41 counterclockwise. That's right: two unrelated sets of exit numbers, going in opposite directions. Congratulations, Slade Caltrider, Maryland's highway administrator.

And why, you may ask, is Virginia's Mr. King now changing the numbers on four of his state's 14 Beltway exits? On account of the fact that I95 northbound, when it hits the Beltway, becomes the Beltway. Keep in mind that I95 is still the Beltway for a stretch in Maryland, but Maryland ignores that in its exit numbers. That means that a driver northbound on I95 meets two unrelated sets of exit numbers as he crosses from Virginia to Maryland.

The arrogance of these highway bureaucrats fiddling around with their little numbers games, in disregard of the convenience and safety of the driving public, is something. They are the real Beltway bandits. Beltway exits should be numbered in sequence, according to one system, the way they started out. For that matter, thw whole Beltway should be returned to its one original number, 495. The thought of reprinting all the maps, again, makes one cringe, but it should be done, one last time.