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Earley picks up `slugs,' woos commuters
Gubernatorial candidate experiences morning crunch

By MATTHEW BARAKAT Associated Press
3 Aug 01

It was only a matter of time before politicians began courting the slug vote.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley made his pitch yesterday morning, picking up a pair of "slugs" from a Woodbridge park-and-ride lot and driving them into Washington, D.C.

The slug line is a Northern Virginia phenomenon in which commuters queue up at designated spots and hitch rides from random strangers. That allows both the driver and the slugs to take advantage of Interstate 95's high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes, which can shave a half hour or more off the morning commute into Washington.

Earley's aide did the driving while the candidate sat in the back seat of his sport-utility vehicle and asked his slugs what could be done to aid their commute.

Earley said the drive gave him a greater appreciation of the region's traffic woes and an increased respect for the slugs and their drivers.

"It's totally grass-roots organized, and it runs as smooth as silk," Earley said.

In fact, when Earley asked his passengers what the state could do to make life easier for slugs, he was essentially told that the best thing the state could do was stay out of it.

"The system is in place," said Miles Stroman of Woodbridge, who works at the Justice Department. "It runs pretty well as it is."

Stroman did say slugs would benefit from an occasional patrol of during the day of their commuter lots, which are easy targets for thieves.

Politicians would be well-advised to pay attention to slugs' concerns, said Ruth Griggs, a Prince William County supervisor who joined Earley at the Woodbridge lot.

"There are 1,050 spaces in this lot, 850 spaces in the commuter lot at Potomac Mills, 500 spaces at the old Hechinger's store, and they all fill up," she said. "It's huge."

In fact, the Web site slug-line.com lists 28 slug stations in Washington and Virginia. The morning stations are in southern Fairfax County down to Fredericksburg, with the Pentagon the most popular destination. In the afternoon, returning slugs line up at spots in Washington and Arlington County.

As he zipped by cars in the regular lanes of northbound I-95, Earley noted that the HOV lanes appeared to be underutilized.

"We need to increase investment in new roads and mass transit," Earley said. "But the other critical thing is to get cars off the roads. Anything we can do to increase participation in the slug lines would helps us achieve that."

Warner spokesman Mo Elleithee said that Earley, a former attorney general, is in many ways responsible for the gridlock that forces people to slug.

"There's no doubt that this administration, with Governor Gilmore and Mark Earley, has made the problem worse," he said. "Their mismanagement of VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] borders on negligence."

Earley has been pushing his transportation agenda aggressively in the last few days. He was in Norfolk yesterday to tout an eight-point transportation plan that calls for an additional $1.8 billion in spending over the next four years on roads and mass transit.

Such an infusion would will help accelerate the region's priority projects, including a third bridge-tunnel crossing Hampton Roads, Earley said.

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