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Some Cheer, Others Jeer Plan for HOV-2 on I-95
by Justin Blum, Washington Post Staff Writer
December 28, 1996         

      For Lillian Smith and her 15 van pool passengers, expansion of HOV
 lanes and ramps into Prince William County on Interstate 95 has cut
 their travel time nearly in half, reducing their commute from Potomac
 Mills to Rosslyn to 35 minutes. Now Smith fears she'll be stuck in 
gridlock if transportation
 officials reduce the requirement for high-occupancy-vehicle lanes from
 three to two passengers.
      "It'll be just like the regular lanes," said Smith, 44, of Dale
 City. "The express lanes are not going to serve their purpose. It ain't
 going to do nothing but back that traffic up something terrible."
      Commuters who use I-95's HOV lanes expressed mixed reaction
 recently to the Virginia Department of Transportation's announcement
 earlier this month that it's considering reducing the requirements on
 those lanes.
      Many who use the express lanes were fuming about discussion of
 HOV-2 -- particularly "slugs," the people who hitch free rides with
 drivers who want to use the HOV lanes. Some feared that a switch to
 HOV-2 might make it harder to find a ride.
      "I might be stranded," said Milinda Jefferson, 22, of Dale City,
 who hitches to work.
      Those who drive on regular lanes said they were hopeful a change to
 HOV-2 would encourage more car-pooling and reduce traffic for them.
      Rick Fowler, of Woodbridge, would welcome the switch to HOV-2. He
 said he's often stuck in gridlock in the regular lanes and then sees an
 occasional car whipping though HOV lanes at full speed.
      "It can be really frustrating when your lanes are tied up," said
 Fowler, 46.
      John Lisack, 51, of Lake Ridge, who also drives in the regular
 lanes, agreed. "Anybody who has more than one person in a car should be
 able to use it -- anything that would encourage people to reduce the
 number of cars on the road," he said.
      Virginia Transportation Secretary Robert E. Martinez said he thinks
 the HOV lanes on I-95 and Interstate 395 are underused and that his
 department is studying a switch from HOV-3 to HOV-2. Martinez said that
 traffic studies would not be done for several months and that a decision
 would not be made until then.
      If VDOT's studies show that switching to HOV-2 would bring traffic
 in express lanes to a crawl, Martinez said, the state would not make the
 change. Martinez said transportation officials had not decided how much
 congestion would be too much on HOV lanes.
      "If there were major degradation in the velocity {of vehicle
 travel}, we'd have to look at that," Martinez said. "If they're still
 able to move at 55 {mph}, then they shouldn't be concerned."
      Prince William County's strategic plan, which is in its draft stage
 and has not yet been approved by the Board of County Supervisors, asks
 the state to go forward with the change to HOV-2 on a trial basis as a
 way to improve traffic flow.
      More people have been using the HOV lanes since they were expanded
 into Prince William last year. But it's unclear how many county
 residents use the lanes. In February 1995, before HOV lanes were
 extended, 2,749 vehicles traveled on the lanes in the Newington area
 during a morning rush hour. By June 1996, after the expansion, there
 were 3,822 vehicles.
      Discussion of HOV-2 sparked concern among slugs gathered at a
 commuter lot at the Prince William County Parkway and I-95. They lined
 up in the chilly morning darkness this week waiting for drivers who
 would periodically pull up and announce their destinations: "Pentagon!"
 "14th and K!"
      Some drivers and passengers worried that with HOV-2, there might
 not be enough rides for slugs.
      Jean Hebert, 38, of Montclair, said drivers would not take more
 than two riders -- even if they had space. "Most people will probably
 get on with two people," Hebert said. "It'll put more cars on the road."
      Paula Nicely, 45, of Woodbridge, said "if you get it down to two,
 you're defeating the purpose," because it would encourage more people to
 drive and fewer people to car pool.
      Nicely also said she fears that if more people use the HOV lanes,
 she'll be late picking up her children from day care.
      "I don't think it's going to take any pressure off 95," she said.
 "If anything, it's going to add."
      Not everyone in the commuter lot thought HOV-2 was untenable.
 Bernadette Fields, 26, of Dumfries, said she thought switching to HOV-2
 might be a good idea -- as long as there is an increase in the number of
 parking spaces in commuter lots.
      Those who drive in regular lanes on I-95 said that they understood
 car-poolers' concerns but that something needs to be done to ease
 congestion on the regular lanes.
   "I would like to see more utilization of the HOV lanes," said John
 Reid, 42, of Lake Ridge. "I'd like to see it even-up traffic."
 	Dale City resident Milinda Jefferson, 22, waits to hitch
 a ride at an I-95 commuter lot. She fears that a switch  to HOV-2 might
 make it harder to find a ride.
 "Slugs" wait to hitch rides with drivers who want to use
 express lanes. Some say that with HOV-2, they'll be stranded.
 Copyright 1996  The Washington Post
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