- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2000

There are two things besides more money that will ease gridlock in traffic-choked Northern Virginia higher speed limits and smarter use of existing road infrastructure. Virginia's Republican Governor James S. Gilmore is pushing for the adoption of both, albeit on a limited scale.

On Wednesday, the governor announced during his monthly WTOP radio call-in show that he would press for increasing the speed limit on High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on I-95 and I-395 to 65-mph from the ridiculous 55-mph level motorists must currently deal with. The absurdly low 55-mph speed limit a relic of the Arab oil crisis of more than 25 years ago remains in effect solely because it has proven to be an excellent "revenue" generator for state and local authorities via the issuance of trumped-up "speeding" tickets. That limit made a lawbreaker of just about every motorist and gave us the uniquely modern problem of "rolling roadblock" created by handfuls of self-appointed Dudley Do-Right speed limit enforcers cruising at 55-mph in the fast lane because "it's the law."

The governor is to be commended for implicitly agreeing with traffic safety engineers and decades of highway accident/fatality rate data that 55-mph speed limits do not "save lives," as the insurance industry/highway patrol/"safety" entente speciously continues to claim.

A further improvement would be to raise limits on the Beltway and I-66 to 65-mph across the board. Speed limits that enhance the smooth flow of traffic at reasonable rates considered perfectly safe 25-30 years ago are to be encouraged. All the evidence from states that have raised limits shows a decrease in accident/fatality rates following the repeal of the artificially low, fuel crisis-inspired "double nickel." Let's end the hypocrisy for good.

Mr. Gilmore also wants to open the eastbound car pool ramp leading I-66 to the I-495 Beltway by Oct. 1 to ease traffic back-ups at this notorious "choke point." An even better though politically less tenable solution would be to eliminate HOV lanes entirely, opening them up to general traffic. Or promote the adoption of toll lanes that use "congestion pricing" to impose market discipline on the use of roads during peak traffic hours.

"If we do a lot of these (improvements), then over a period of time it will create an impact," Mr. Gilmore told his radio listeners. "Hopefully, in the long run, we're going to make some difference," he said.

It's a step in the right direction, at least. One hopes there will be more to come in the months and years ahead.

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