The Washington, D.C.-metropolitan region has the second-worst traffic congestion in the country, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. The area’s rapid population growth over the last two decades is contrasted with a lagging rate of road improvement. This makes traveling in the area difficult at best during the morning and evening commuter times.
Estimates of what it would take to get roads and transit to where transportation officials think they should be range from $10 billion to $40 billion, much more than the amount that is expected to be available.
Driving alone on congested Interstates 95 or 66 or Va. 28 and Va. 123, however, is not the only way to get from here to there.
The Virginia Railway Express celebrated its 11th anniversary this summer. It is one of the fastest-growing commuter rail lines in the United States with an average of 7,500 commuters a day on its two lines from Manassas and Fredericksburg into and out of Washington, D.C.
The VRE runs 14 trains between Fredericksburg and Washington each weekday, with 11 stops before Union Station in the District. A midday train that departs Union Station at 1 p.m. was added just last year. In addition, Amtrak trains serve the line but make fewer stops.
On the Manassas line, 18 VRE trains and two Amtrak trains run through nine stations starting at Broad Run on into Union Station, including its 1:30 p.m. midday train.
Single-ride, 10-trip and monthly tickets can be bought at VRE stations through automated vending machines. Seniors and those under 18 ride at a discounted price. Tickets cannot be bought with cash at most stations but cash can be used to buy tickets at Giant and Safeway grocery stores.
Fares are based on zones traveled through and range from $2 to $8 each way. Passengers can save 30 percent on monthly tickets and 15 percent on 10-trip tickets and can receive an additional 5 percent discount when buying monthly tickets by mail. Free parking is available at all VRE stations.
All mass transit systems in the D.C. region began using a tax-deductible Metrochek voucher system last fall that employers can use to lower the costs for their commuters.
For more information on VRE or Metrochek, visit http://www.vre.org or call (800) RIDE-VRE for a new rider’s pack.
Prince William has two types of bus lines: OmniRide commuter bus service to points in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., and OmniLink bus service linking neighborhoods within the county, Manassas and Manassas Park, funded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission. They are supported by a 2 percent gasoline tax.
OmniRide buses are run from the county’s eastern end to the Franconia-Springfield Metrorail station, up U.S. 1, the Pentagon, Crystal City, Washington Navy Yard and downtown Washington areas. Service from Manassas goes to the West Falls Church and Vienna Metrorail stations and the Pentagon and downtown D.C. Fares are $5 for a one-way trip and 10-trip packages can be bought for $35.
Fares to the Metrorail stations are $1.75 one-way and a 10-pack is $17.50. As an added bonus, VRE tickets are accepted for fares.
The cross county connector links eastern Prince William County with the Manassas area via Prince William Parkway. A one-way fare for this bus is 75 cents. Transfers cost 25 cents. Senior citizens can ride for 35 cents (10 cents to transfer) between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Upon request, OmniLink will deviate from the scheduled bus route to locations within 3?4 mile of the route. OmniLink operates weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park at a base fare of 75 cents, with discounts for seniors and children under 6 with a paying adult. PRTC also offers new rider kits. More information about the PRTC can be obtained by calling (703) 730-OMNI or (888) 730-OMNI or by visiting http://www.omniride.com.
VAN AND CAR POOLS
The PRTC operates the free OmniMatch ride-sharing program that connects commuters who have similar work hours and travel routes with each other.
Commuters in car pools alternate driving and split the travel costs while those in van pools pay a flat fee and the same one or two people drive each day.
Commuters who regularly go to work by walking, biking or using car pools, van pools or transit can participate in the Guaranteed Ride Home program. The program allows registered participants to receive up to four free rides home annually in the event of a personal emergency or unscheduled overtime.
Commuters interested in the OmniMatch program can call (703) 730-OMNI or visit http://www.omniride.com.
Whether in car pools or van pools, commuters in the I-95 HOV lanes, which require the presence of at least three people in a vehicle, can reach their destinations more quickly than if they traveled alone. A report released in 1998 by the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments showed that vehicles in the HOV lanes during peak hours traveled at an average of 64 mph while those in the regular lanes in the peak-travel direction traveled at an average of 25 mph.
The HOV advantage has given rise to “slugging,” a cross between car pooling and hitchhiking. Commuters become “slugs” by parking at a given spot, generally a commuter parking lot, then catching rides with drivers who need passengers in order to use the HOV lanes. About 4,000 people in Northern Virginia slug each day, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Prince William carpoolers saw their Horner Road Commuter Lot expanded to 2,200 spaces in July 2002. Other lots like those at Tacketts Mill and Va. 123/I-95 give Prince William area slugs a lot of options.
The “Mixing Bowl” project in Springfield and the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge that began a year ago are taking the majority of the region’s road dollars, but there is still progress elsewhere.
The widening of Va. 123 to four lanes north of the county in Fairfax will be mostly completed in 2004.
Work to widen Va. 234 to four lanes from Manassas to Dumfries will be completed in phases in this summer and 2005, although the start on work from Snowfall Road to Country Club Drive was pushed back six months to this summer.
Manassas area drivers are still getting used to two major pieces of work completed in the past several years.
The Va. 28/U.S. 29 overpass eliminated a major bottleneck north on Va. 28.
The last piece of the $160 million Va. 234 bypass went in and allows motorists to travel from I-95 near Dumfries to I-66 near Gainesville without driving through Manassas. Several other major construction projects face funding hurdles to start in the next several years: rapid bus service in the Dulles corridor by 2005; the U.S. 29/I-66 interchange in Gainesville, and additional lanes or HOV lanes on I-66 and I-95.
The Franconia-Springfield Transportation Center offers Prince William County and Stafford residents their closest Metrorail stop. The blue line travels from Franconia-Springfield to the Pentagon and Metro Center, among other points.
Commuters can get to this station using OmniRide Prince William Metro-Direct and the VRE.
With the exception of Manassas and Manassas Park, the Virginia Department of Transportation is responsible for road construction and repairs in the area south and west of the City of Fairfax.
For information on road construction or to report problems, contact the Virginia Department of Transportation office.
In Prince William County, that number is (703) 383-8368.
In Manassas, call Public Administration at (703) 257-8259. In Manassas Park, call (703) 335-8840 and ask for Public Works.