There may always be placid motorists who accept with resignation their twice-daily crawls through Greater Washington's most infamous rush-hour bottlenecks. But more than a few commuters who have watched the traffic grow each il,7p,85 year must wonder what the ultimate toll on their lives will be. If you have to spend an hour each way inching along, say, I-270 or Rte. 29 in Montgomery County, in 10 years you will have frittered away the equivalent of 600 eight-hour days in the basic crawl mode. What's worse, the number of people joining you in this questionable pastime is increasing -- outstripping the pace of road construction and improvements and lengthening the travel time by that much more. What would it take in alternate methods of transportation to get you and others out of your cars?

The textbook response of the urban planners is mass transit. But the key word is convenience: people aren't going to go that extra mile or stand around for too many minutes in the wet or cold for the privilege of bunching up with a lot of other people. Governments have to create incentives, which is what Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist is proposing for consideration by the county council. It won't work wonders, but it's worth a test.

* Mr. Gilchrist proposes a $5.5-million transit package to curb congestion along I-270, Rte. 29 and other jam-prone arteries. The number of rush-hour express buses on I-270 would be increased from 14 to 19 an hour, and on Rte. 29 from four to five. The proposed program also would pay residents and businesses a subsidy of up to $200 a month for establishing van pools on these two roads. In addition, two new commuter parking lots would be built. Studies would be undertaken of Metrorail passes allowing unlimited travel for a monthly fee, an east-west mass transit route between Silver Spring and Bethesda, an exclusive bus lane for Rte. 355 and a new design for faster pickups and dropoffs by the 200 buses serving the Silver Spring and Bethesda subway stations.

None of this will transform Montgomery's beaten paths into test tracks for the Indy 500. But at the rate development is packing those lanes every day, the county government can't afford merely to stand by for road improvements that will take until the 21st century to happen. For a relatively small investment, the council can conduct a useful road test that might get things moving at least a little bit better than they are right now.