Lane Ranger for Monday, July 14, 2003

Dear Lane Ranger: Can you find out what the latest update is of the extension of Prince William County Parkway to U.S. 1? When I wrote to you a year ago five houses had yet to be purchased for demolition. This has been completed and all homes have been leveled since this past fall. When can I expect construction to affect our neighborhood?

— Bill Clark of Woodbridge

Dear Bill: Construction is scheduled to begin this fall and take a year, said Mary Loren, management analyst with county public works. So it’s pretty soon we’re going to have a direct connection to U.S. 1 from the Potomac Mills area taking the parkway, instead of the round-about way now.

It’ll make it easy driving over Interstate 95 and you see a major backup, you’ll be able to keep going to U.S. 1.

And guess who is paying for the extension? Your tax dollars because you voted in the county’s road bonds. Thank you voters.

Speaking of county projects, the Spriggs Road widening project will begin this fall and finish in Spring 2005, Loren said.

The county is in the process of buying two properties on the east end of Minnieville Road for its future widening, she said.

Dear Lane Ranger: I have seen a white Chevy Blazer, a maroon pick-up truck, and a hunter green Dodge Caravan in the HOV lanes on 95, with the clean fuel license plates. Are these drivers switching plates from another car to get access to the lanes during rush hour?? Are any of these cars made to be run on clean fuel, thus HOV legal? This morning I saw a silver F-150 with one driver go right by a cop. He had the clean fuel plates, but in the lower right corner near his taillight, was a diamond-shaped sticker that said CNF.

— Marcel Henry of Woodbridge

Dear Marcel: Yes those vehicles are legal, and the Lane Ranger didn’t know this. Apparently dealers can get you an engine that burns clean fuels like ethanol or compressed natural gas that qualify them to get the tags. It costs extra, you can retrofit for several thousands dollars, based on a rough Internet search.

Marc Copeland, a senior policy analyst at the Department of Motor Vehicles, said they do not keep track of the industry and what is “clean.” The cars have it in their VIN number to indicate they are clean, and the DMV issues based on that and other criteria, he said.

“They just can’t walk into the DMV and get special plates,” he said.

I think CNF stands for compressed natural fuel. There’s also CNG for compressed natural gas.

So now I guess everyone wants to run out and buy a hybrid or clean-running truck so they can cruise on into work as a single-occupancy driver. Don’t be so quick.

Yes, effective July 1 the Virginia General Assembly extended the exception granted for vehicles with the special plates from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2006, but state law is subject to the federal rules, which could change.

The Virginia Department of Transportation warns that the Federal Highway Administration could step in and nullify the state law by declaring it is in conflict with federal requirements. The VDOT Web site: “We have reason to believe that FHWA will not act until after Congress has acted on the Reauthorization Bill for federal transportation funds sometime this fall. If that Congressional legislation does not address this issue, then the FHWA would most likely be compelled to act. They are willing to give us until July 1, 2004, to continue allowing hybrid vehicles to use the HOV lanes in a ‘pilot’ status.”

Now Virginia, proud sovereign entity that it is and never to run something up the flagpole because others do, could go its own way and keep the exceptions but it’s like the speed limit — you go your own way and you lose federal dollars.

We really should be asking what we mean by clean. This column has gone into this before. The hybrid Ford Escape expected to debut in a year will get 35-40 miles per gallon for city driving in its non-four-wheel drive version. Ford’s press releases don’t estimate fuel economy for highway driving or four-wheel drive. Hybrids get better mileage in the city than the highway. How will it be cleaner than a sedan when it gets the same mid-20s per gallon mileage?

Instead of letting the green drivers onto HOV lanes, I’d rather see HOT lanes, or Lexus lanes if you will. Everyone knows we don’t have enough public funds to pay for our transportation needs, so let those who want to pay get the easier commute.

HOT lanes on the Beltway would get OmniRide buses a clear route to Tysons Corner and West Falls Church Metrorail from Interstate 95.

The Lane Ranger believes HOT lanes are fair. It’s almost like dropping your child off at private school. If we are going to underfund public education yet allow people to go outside that system, seems far less harmful to let people pay for lanes. We can call them “charter lanes.”

HOV rules contradicted in last week’s column

Reader John Taylor pointed out that VDOT’s Web site lists rules that contradict what State Police Sgt. Everett Currie said last week. Currie said law enforcement vehicles can use HOV lanes at any time.

VDOT’s rules specifically say law enforcement vehicles are given the exception when responding to an emergency.

The Lane Ranger will check on this.

Rules are rules, but I’ve read how FBI agents and others with a badge sometimes will use a shoulder to bypass traffic. Of course there are some strict police out there who stop them and ask where’s the fire. A friend of mine, when he ran volunteer rescue, would sometimes use the sirens on the way to dinner or Blockbuster.

But at the end of the day, is anyone getting hurt? Try listening to the police scanner for a day, like we do in the newsroom, and see how police have to run around to all kinds of crazy things to keep us safe. It is dangerous to stand on a highway shoulder while conducting a traffic stop.

So like there’s wiggle room with the speed limit, I say we give police a break. (But not my friend.)

One could argue it is a far greater crime that all of us drive way above the speed limit of 55 mph, because engines do not burn as clean when we zoom at 65 and 75 mph. We are hurting the environment.

I sound like a politician this week.

Please send questions or comments on transportation to: Lane Ranger, c/o Potomac News, P.O. Box 2470, Woodbridge, VA 22195; fax: (703) 878-8099; email to: [email protected]; or by phone: (703) 878-8062.