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Forum LockedDelegate Nichols OP-ED on Slugging & HOT Lanes

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Joined: 25 Jul 2001
Location: VA
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    Posted: 10 Mar 2009 at 5:22am
The following article was taken from Delegate Nichols website:

Nichols discusses preserving a free and functional way of getting to work

For 30 years, thousands of Northern Virginia commuters on the Interstate 95/395 corridor have used a practice called “slugging.” Slugging, also known as casual carpooling, allows commuters headed toward the city to pick up riders at commuter lots around the area, enabling all participants to use the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the way to work. Since its inception in the 1970s, slugging has been an effective way of getting to work while spending less time sitting in heavy Northern Virginia traffic.

The genius of the slugging system is that it does not require any official maintenance, it costs users and taxpayers nothing and it takes thousands of cars off the road every single day. Users cut their commute times and their impact on the environment significantly, simply by teaming up with other people heading the same way.

Slugging is the ultimate example of a sensible solution to a big problem. That is why it must be defended even from well-intentioned ideas, such as high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. HOT lanes are special lanes similar to our HOV lanes that allow carpoolers to ride for free but also allow single drivers to enter for a fee. Proponents argue that the resulting revenue would help Virginia keep pace with its aging infrastructure and growing need for new roads. Unfortunately, if built on I-95/395 in Northern Virginia, HOT lanes might also lead to the end of the slugging system as we know it.

If HOT Lanes are built on I-95/395 between Spotsylvania and Arlington as proposed, they will encourage thousands of new drivers to use the special lanes, many of them riding alone. This will provide a revenue boost, but it will also create additional congestion for the riders who continue to slug or carpool with three or more riders. HOT lanes will also reduce the incentive for slug drivers to pick up riders and for riders to leave their cars behind and hitch a ride to work. The overall effect is a significant increase in the number of cars moving up and down I-95/395 everyday, which will lead to increased congestion and strain on the infrastructure.

The purpose of this column is not to argue against using HOT lanes in Northern Virginia. As I said above, on many of our most congested roads they will be a valuable way to reduce congestion and bring in needed revenue. However in areas like the district I represent in Prince William County, thousands of people are already getting to work every day without cars thanks to the uniquely effective slugging system. HOT lanes impose the threat of increased congestion, slower commuter times and greater wear and tear on our roads.

In this year’s General Assembly session I proposed a bill that would exempt I-95/395 from the HOT lanes project in order to preserve the slugging system. Although the bill died in committee, I do not plan to give up my fight to preserve this valuable 30-year institution. It is our job in the General Assembly to seek solutions to the challenges Virginians are facing, which certainly include staggering transportation problems in Northern Virginia. However, it is also our responsibility to observe the practices already in place and to preserve the ones that get results.

Prince William County residents have been slugging to work for decades. As long as I represent them I will fight to protect that institution, even from ideas such as HOT lanes, which present a great opportunity to improve life for other Virginia commuters. We should always be open to new ways to improve daily life for Virginia commuters, but we should also be mindful of the consequences of those ideas. HOT lanes may be the solution for commuters in many parts of Virginia, but in Prince William County and other communities on the I-95/395 corridor, commuters should be allowed to continue to “slug in” without unnecessary disruptions to a system that works.

Del. Paul Nichols represents the 51st district, including Lake Ridge and Woodbridge. Delegate Nichols has been a resident and practicing attorney in Lake Ridge for nearly 30 years.
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