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Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Seeking balance in commuter lots
Dessina Mendita knows if she arrives late to the Horner Road commuter lot in Woodbridge, it will be tough to find a parking spot.
"A lot of people have to park illegally," she said.
Cars line the lot's entrance road, even though signs specifically inform motorists they can only park in marked spots.
Mendita, who lives in Woodbridge and works in Crystal City, still prefers this lot because she can easily find a welcoming driver to give her a ride or passengers for her car on the "slug lines."
The Virginia Department of Transportation, which owns the lot, reported this year it had 104 percent usage, with 100 more cars parked than spaces available.
The Lake Ridge Commuter Lot, Montclair Commuter Lot, the U.S. 1/Va. 234 lot and the Triangle lot at Va. 619 and U.S. 1 all have few, if any, spaces left in the mornings. VDOT reported the U.S. 1/Va. 234 lot at 114 percent capacity.
Other lots in the county have 25 percent or less spaces being used, according to VDOT. Underused lots include the Lindendale commuter lot, the Brittany Neighborhood Park lot and the Interstate 95/Va. 123 Loop Interchange lot.
"Part of what's happening is that demand is being driven by the slugs," said Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large. "Certain destinations for slugs seem to be generating greater demand for commuter parking than others.
"So we have this uneven growth in demand throughout the 95 corridor. On paper we have a surplus of parking spots, but when you look at individual lots, certain are well over capacity."
VDOT's study showed more sport utility vehicles parking in these lots in recent months, perhaps because of increased gas prices, said VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall.
Some also say people drive north from Stafford County and other areas and occupy spaces in Prince William lots.
A county study looking at residents' personal property stickers showed almost 25 percent of cars in the Horner Road lot came from Stafford, Connaughton said.
But Mendita and VDOT representatives agreed most of the cars belong to county residents.
Woodbridge resident Scott Martinez arrives at the Horner Road lot each morning no later than 7:10, and easily finds a spot. Slugging, or sharing a ride with strangers so the car can use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on I-95, saves him approximately two hours each day on his commute to the Pentagon.
"It's very convenient," Martinez said. "It's a win-win."
Aside from allowing him more time to spend with family, Martinez likes to carpool because fewer cars on the road means fewer accidents and a cleaner environment.
A crowded lot like Horner Road works better than an empty one, he said.
"There's more of a pool of bodies," going to a variety of locations, Martinez said.
The county added approximately 400 spaces a few years ago to the Horner Road lot, Connaughton said. But the slug lines seem to have followed the expansion.
"The more that we expand capacity at certain lots, we're seeing demand get less at other lots," Connaughton said.
VDOT has no plans or funding for new lots or expansion in Prince William County.
But the department owns 12 acres adjacent to the overcrowded Va. 234 lot. County Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, R-Dumfries, wants VDOT to build a lot there. She hopes Dumfries state Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, R-52nd District, can help obtain some extra state funding to build that lot expansion.
Frederick is out of town this week and could not be reached for comment.
"Since there appears to be funds for transportation in the governor's budget, I though it was reasonable to request that, since there isn't any money for widening roads," Caddigan said.
Gov. Mark R. Warner proposed this week $824 million in funding for rail, public-private partnerships and paying off debts.
Building a commuter lot would cost less than widening highways, Caddigan said.
"If we're not going to get relief on 95, and we're not going to get relief on Route 1, and we are encouraging people to double up in their cars, the state needs to provide these funds," Caddigan said.
Residents don't want to have to drive out of their way to a less-crowded lot, Caddigan said.
But expanding the Va. 234 lot with the 12 acres will cost millions, which VDOT doesn't have, said Tom Fahrney, VDOT transportation manager for Prince William County.
The parcel also poses some environmental issues.
"It's quite a conundrum," Connaughton said.
Staff writer Sari Krieger can be reached at (703) 878-8062.
Cars line Telegraph Road near the Horner Road commuter lot because of lack of spaces in the parking lot.
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