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Sunday, February 08, 2009

George Barker to Protect Slugs

For those of you not in Northern Virginia, we have a unique, informal carpooling system. In parking lots, near bus stops, and in park and rides all over the Northern Virginia area, commuters form lines, and cars pick them up so they can get on the HOV express lanes to get to work quickly. On I-95, cars with three or more people get to whiz into work while watching those in single occupancy cars sit in traffic.

Those of us who take these rides into Washington, DC are called slugs. I'm not sure where the term comes from but it's quite a culture, with its own Web site to boot.

When I first described it to my late mother, she simply said, "I brought you up better than that - you shouldn't hitchhike." I had to explain that it wasn't exactly standing by the side of the road and sticking my thumb out, and that the people who slugged into work, and those who picked them up, were all very respectable professionals. In fact, I've had the most fascinating conversations with political appointees, military officers and even one Israeli who is a former officer in the Israeli army. He and a friend, who is a Middle Eastern Berber musician, Kamel, have given me numerous rides and some very interesting discussions. Since I often carpool with my husband, I've been on the other side, as we've also picked up slugs.

Anyway, the coming of HOT Lanes to Northern Virginia has been the topic of a great deal of discussion out on the sluglines. Most of my fellow slugs and those who pick us up don't like it and fear that our very efficient system of carpooling will be disrupted if not destroyed by, what we view, as "Lexus lanes."

State Senator, George Barker, has introduced legislation to protect slugs. Here's his press release:
PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY – Senator Barker, D-Prince William, Fairfax, is presenting a bill in the Senate Committee on Transportation this afternoon that would protect carpoolers and sluggers who use the HOV lanes on the 95/395 corridor. Negotiations are currently underway with Fluor/Transurban to convert these lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes. Single occupancy vehicles would be able to pay a toll to use the designated lanes. Sen. Barker's bill, S.B. 1232, would ensure that users of the proposed HOT lanes are able to travel at the same speeds they currently can travel on existing HOV lanes.

Sen. Barker's aim is to protect bus riders, carpoolers and sluggers who are already "doing the right thing." If the HOT lanes are incorporated where HOV lanes exist now, the proposed legislation will safeguard the travel time of passengers.

This legislation would apply to contracts for HOT lanes that are being constructed along portions of I-95/395, between the I-95/395/495 interchange and Virginia Route 234 in Prince William County.

"Drivers in Prince William pick up carpoolers, and they say it works because they can get to and from work and, for the most part, avoid gridlock," said Barker. "Our responsibility is to make sure priority is given to the drivers who use the carpool lanes as intended."
Of course, I'll want to learn more about this bill, but I think it's a good start at protecting a rather unique Northern Virginia tradition.

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