- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday proposed raising the speed limit for certain HOV lanes in Northern Virginia to 65 mph.

Mr. Gilmore called for the speed limit on the divided high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 to be raised to 65 mph at all times, and for the speed limit on I-66 inside the Beltway to be raised to 65 during the times the road is restricted to HOV-2 users.

The Republican governor detailed his plan yesterday on his monthly "Ask the Governor" program on WTOP-AM (Radio 1500), which he has begun to use as a platform for monthly announcements about Northern Virginia transportation tweaks.

"I think it would be safe, particularly when you're on HOVs with barriers. Frankly, jumping from 55 to 65 is not an unsafe thing to do, but it will help traffic a great deal, so we'll start on that path," Mr. Gilmore said after the program, calling the higher speeds a way to make car pooling more attractive to commuters.

Raising the speed limits was one part of his plan and one that will require a safety study and eventual legislative approval.

In terms of immediate relief, though, the governor promised to make the ramp that takes HOV traffic from I-66 to the Beltway open at all times. Right now the ramp is open only while the left lane is reserved for HOV vehicles.

Mr. Gilmore also said he will create a state program offering state employees up to $65 a month if they take public transportation to work. That mirrors the federal Metrochek program, which also pays up to $65 a month.

The governor's plan would be open to 8,700 full-time state employees who live in Northern Virginia, from Fredericksburg north.

And the governor announced www.beltwayrail.org, a new Web site where people can post their own thoughts on a potential rail system around the Beltway.

But the most intriguing option is his support for raising the speed limit by 10 mph.

The Virginia Department of Transportation would have to conduct a study to make sure the roads could safely handle the increased speed something the governor said would be done by October.

Arlington County Board member Charles P. Monroe, a Democrat, said he'd probably urge the county to oppose changing the speed limit because the road is already at capacity during peak hours and cars can't go 55, much less 65 mph.

But some regular drivers said that the HOV-restriction hours are much less congested than other times, and that traffic could flow at 65 mph.

Barbara A. Favola, a Democrat and chairman of the Arlington County Board, said she was concerned that the governor didn't consult with federal agencies first, and she wondered if the road could safely handle traffic at 65 mph.

But she supported the governor's intentions.

"Any questions are in the process area," she said. "From a policy standpoint, he's absolutely correct to try to make HOV more attractive."

Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican and co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said yesterday he'd reserve judgment on the proposal.

"I think it needs to be done with an eye toward safety," he said. "I'm just concerned, even along HOV lanes, there are certain bottlenecks along the way that are very congested."

The governor yesterday, in response to questions from listeners and the show's hosts, also restated his opposition to proceeding with work on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge without full federal funding in place, arguing that could leave the states picking up the tab for cost overruns in the end.

That leaves him in opposition to Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, who blindsided the governor last month by announcing he would support work going ahead even without the full financing in place and promised Maryland would pick up 10 percent of cost overruns.

Mr. Gilmore said he didn't want to give the federal government control of the project and thereby the power to add whatever bells and whistles it wants while being able to stick the states with the cost overruns.

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