Lanes Inaugurated on Rte. 50 in Md.
Access Between Bowie and Beltway
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 23, 2002; Page B01
The busy stretch of Route 50 between Bowie and the
Capital Beltway yesterday became the fifth major
highway in the Washington suburbs to open carpool
Motorists who use the new lanes, which cost $26.3
million to develop, will cut five to seven minutes
from their trips along that eight-mile corridor, state
To travel in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the
first in the region to be open 24 hours a day
exclusively for carpoolers, a driver will have to
bring along at least one passenger. About 10 to 15
percent of the vehicles using Route 50 already carry
two or more people, Maryland officials said.
State highway planners hope to speed travel between
Washington and the quickly growing communities in Anne
Arundel and Prince George's counties. In Bowie, the
east-west lanes of Route 50 connect with Route 301, a
major north-south highway.
While rewarding people who don't drive alone, the
new lanes aren't likely to offer the added bonus of
those along Interstate 395 in Northern Virginia.
People who don't want to drive and don't want to
commit to a formal carpool can catch free rides along
I-395 in a loosely organized system known as
The slugs, people who wait in line for drivers to
pick them up and form a carpool, are vital to the
performance of the HOV lanes in the crowded I-395
corridor. An estimated 3,000 slugs climb into
strangers' vehicles each morning in Northern Virginia,
freeing up space on roads and on Metrorail cars and
commuter trains. About one out of four vehicles using
the I-395 HOV lanes in 1999 carried a slug, said
Valerie Pardo, a senior transportation engineer for
the Virginia Department of Transportation.
"It's a big factor in the success of those HOV
lanes out there," Pardo said.
But slugging hasn't caught on in Maryland's only
other HOV lanes, on Interstate 270.
"So far, our methods are to encourage people
to form carpools" through help from government
programs, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman
for the Maryland State Highway Administration.
The Washington area's slugging phenomenon has drawn
nationwide attention. Slugs have their own Web site, www.slug-lines.com,
complete with slugging "etiquette" (no
smoking, eating or talking except a brief "thank
you") and new locations where drivers and riders
Northern Virginia transportation officials don't
sanction slugging because of potential liability. But
they say it's so important to freeing up road space
that they build queuing areas into new park-and-ride
lots and Arlington County helps pay for the Web site.
Slugging takes vehicles off the road by allowing
people to share rides without having to commit to the
strict meeting times of most carpools, Pardo said.
But unlike I-395, where HOV lanes require vehicles
with three or more people, those in Maryland require
only two people. That's probably a key reason slugging
hasn't caught on in Maryland or along I-66 in Northern
Virginia, where the carpool lanes also require only
two people, Pardo said. HOV-2 lanes also are available
on the Dulles Toll Road.
It's not as difficult to find one neighbor or
co-worker to carpool with as it is to find two, Pardo
said. Moreover, she said, many people don't feel
comfortable getting into a car alone with a stranger,
while they might feel fine in a group of three
"If there's someone else getting in there with
you, it's a shared risk," Pardo said.
Engineers determine how many people per car should
be required for the carpool lanes by measuring how the
road space can be used most efficiently. They require
enough people per vehicle to limit use of the lane
while still attracting enough vehicles to avoid
wasting the road space.
For example, when VDOT officials in 1999 considered
making the I-395 carpool lanes HOV-2 instead of HOV-3,
Pardo said, they found that it would allow so many
additional vehicles into the carpool lanes that they
would back up from the Pentagon to the Beltway.
Edgar said that requiring only two people in a
vehicle works well on I-270's HOV lanes and that state
officials wanted to try to keep the requirement
consistent on Route 50.
"If it gets too congested and the HOV lanes
aren't working well, we could always go to
HOV-3," Edgar said.
The addition of the HOV lanes means there are four
travel lanes in each direction on Route 50. State
officials said they needed 24-hour HOV lanes because
they placed them in what were the highway's inner
shoulders. As a matter of safety, the officials wanted
to avoid any confusion about whether the new lanes
were for travel or breakdowns.
David LeBlanc, an Army lieutenant colonel who runs
the slugging Web site and wrote a book about slugs,
said he thinks HOV lanes won't attract slugs unless
they are separated by a barrier and heavily patrolled,
like those on I-395.
"Slugging is really only successful on I-95
because of those dedicated HOV lanes with jersey
barriers and discrete exit points," LeBlanc said.
"I think that's the single reason slugging hasn't
flourished anywhere else."
© 2002 The Washington Post Company