Traffic Troubles and Solutions for Prince William

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By Olivia Overman, Contributing Writer
Nestled between I-95 to the east and I-66 to the west, and located just south of the nation’s capital, it is no surprise that many in Prince William regularly face the humdrum of traffic congestion. Just about every day, traffic reporters fill our airwaves with tales of back-ups, accidents and lane closures.  Rest assured, there soon will be additional options available for people who have to travel the I-95 or I-66 corridors whether for work or play.  From slugging to public transportation, to extended and improved High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, to teleworking, Prince William has lots of plans to keep its residents moving.

HOV/Express Lanes on I-95

traffic -For several years, Virginia officials have been exploring the possibility of entering into a public-private partnership with 95 Express Lanes LLC that would allow for improvements and reduction of traffic congestion along the I-95 corridor in  Northern Virginia. Last July, Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has signed an agreement to move these plans forward. By working with a private company, Virginia will receive much-needed funding for the expansion and improvement of existing HOV lanes, which currently offer a faster commuter option by only allowing vehicles carrying three or more people, motorcycles and hybrid cars to enter during rush hours.  95 Express Lanes will contribute $854 million of the nearly $1 billion required to complete the project.

According to a VDOT fact sheet: “Improvements that are part of this $1 billion project include adding a third HOV lane for 14 miles along I-95 from the Edsall Road area on I-395 south to the Prince William Parkway, improving two existing HOV lanes for 6 miles between Prince William Parkway and Rt. 234 (Dumfries Road),  and adding two new HOV/Express Lanes for another 9 miles south to Stafford County, Rt. 610 (Garrisonville Road).”

Essential to the success of the plan is converting the I-95 HOV lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, which will link to the recently completed HOT lanes on I-495. Cars carrying three or more people, emergency vehicles, buses and motorcycles will all be allowed to ride the HOT lanes for free. To get started, just purchase an E-ZPass Flex. It enables drivers to use a manual switch to select between toll-paying mode and HOV-3 mode. Visit for more details.

This innovative device is good news for those who “slug.” Slugging is a grassroots rideshare program that originated in Northern Virginia, where drivers pick up extra riders at designated locations so that they can make use of the faster HOV lanes. The system reduces the amount of cars on the road and provides a free commuter option for riders.

For those who do not meet the “rule of three,” the charge for the Express Lanes will depend on the amount of traffic on the road at the time of entry. While this may seem a little confusing, such a pricing system ensures that traffic levels can be monitored and controlled to move more predictably. It is this predictability that people in Prince William and other parts of Northern Virginia will likely cherish as they make their daily commute.

Said Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia Sean Connaughton: “Prince William County stands to benefit a great deal by the I-95 Express Lanes. Travel options, whether it is traveling by bus, carpool/vanpool or driving alone, will be more reliable on I-95. In addition, the Commonwealth has developed recommendations for a significant increase in commuter bus services that are designed to maximize the capacity of the I-95 Express Lanes.” He noted that increased park-and-ride lot expansions and development are also in the pipeline.

VDOT communications director Steven Titunik said, “e new 95 Express Lanes project…will be completed by end 2014, early 2015. [The lanes] are critical to improve traffic flow especially in peak PM hours, and by extending HOV lanes, vanpools and buses can travel further south, thus avoiding adding volume to the 95 South general purpose lanes. Also, part of extending the HOV lanes will be two new flyover ramps.” The ramps will be located at the exit for 234/Joplin Road, and at the end of the line, before Garrisonville Road.

A Proposed Bi-County Parkway

Efforts to connect Route 234 at I-66 in Prince William County into Loudoun County near Route 50—the proposed Bi-County Parkway—have been in the works since 2005. The corridor, if constructed, would allow much improved access to Washington Dulles International Airport from the south, west and north. Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $5 million for preliminary engineering and design work in June 2012. If successful, this ten-mile stretch of parkway will connect two large counties that are growing in population.

Public Transportation Options

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transit Commission (PRTC) offers a network of commuter and local bus services in Prince William County and the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, and operates the Virginia Railway Express in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Commuter buses such as OmniRide and Metro Direct provide the option to leave the driving behind and ride a bus to places such as the Franconia/Springfield Metro station, Arlington, Washington D.C. and Tysons Corner.

Christine Rodrigo, public relations specialist at PRTC, noted that ridership on both commuter and local buses has increased in recent years. “Those who use public transportation can travel in the HOV lanes and have a quicker commute without worrying about finding and paying for parking at their destination,” she said. “When gas prices spiked in 2008 we saw a big increase in ridership because it’s much less expensive to pay a bus fare than fill up the gas tank for long bumper-to-bumper commutes. Some of those riders stayed with us even when prices started going down.” Many employers offer tax-free “SmartBenefits” of up to $125 per month, to help employees pay for their commute.

Asked why people use public transportation instead of slugging or driving, Rodrigo said, “We actually have quite a few commuters who use a combination of slugging and bus riding because it suits their schedule, and that’s great. We encourage people to share their ride, whether by slugging or in a formal carpool or vanpool or by riding with PRTC. Many people tell us that they are less stressed when they let someone else do the driving. On the bus, they can get a start on their workday by replying to emails, reading or getting a little more sleep.”

Rodrigo added that PRTC also helps people to get around locally, with its OmniLink service that provides transportation within the greater Prince William area.

Virginia Railway Express (VRE)

Established in 1992, VRE provides commuter rail service from Northern Virginia into Washington, D.C., with many stops along the way. The Fredericksburg line, as you would expect, begins in Fredericksburg, serving Prince William commuters at stops in Woodbridge, Rippon and Quantico. The Manassas line begins in Broad Run, with local stops in Manassas and Manassas Park. SmartBenefits can also be applied to VRE ticket purchases.

“We have seen our ridership increase approximately 10 percent over the past two years due to the congestion on I-95 and I-66,” said Ann King, manager of market development at VRE. In a 2012 annual passenger survey, it is interesting to note that the majority of riders chose to try VRE for the first time due to—you guessed it— traffic. Also noteworthy was that before riding VRE, 42 percent of those surveyed drove alone to work, while 63 percent of riders work for the federal government.

VRE offers a “comfortable, easy, mainly commuter ride,” said King.  There are a variety of ticket options available, from one-way to monthly options, plus it provides a number of perks such as a “Free Ride Certificate” if your train arrives 30 minutes late into the station. An added benefit for all commuters who regularly bike, walk or use public transportation to get to work is the option to enroll in the “Guaranteed Ride Home” program. Run by Commuter Connections, it offers commuters a free ride home in the event of an emergency.

Future Commuting Options?

Secretary Connaughton said that while there has been dialogue about extending Metrorail from Franconia-Springfield south to Potomac Mills; there are no planned Metro extensions beyond the Silver Line to Dulles.

“In order to receive transit service from WMATA, Prince William County will be required to join the WMATA Compact and make a substantial financial commitment along with the other affected jurisdictions to the capital expenditures needed for an extension,” Connaughton said.

A more likely option is ferry service on the Potomac River. A 2009 VDOT study looked at the feasibility of opening a water ferry that would lead from Prince William into Maryland and DC, with stops in employment centers such as Fort Belvoir, National Harbor and the Navy Yard. Virginia is currently conducting a market study in coordination with fellow stakeholders such as Maryland, the  District of Columbia, Prince William and Fairfax Counties and the U.S.     Department of Transportation (USDOT). According to Connaughton, “e market study is designed to seek the public’s opinion of whether they will ride a ferry, as well as the availability of landside infrastructure, obstacles and pricing options.”

“The Northern Virginia Regional Commission is currently in the process of applying to the USDOT to get the Potomac, Occoquan and Anacostia Rivers designated as a Marine Highway Crossing,” Connaughton added. “This designation could help advance the development of future Potomac ferry service.”

Teleworking in Prince William

Teleworking has become a hot topic lately.  Since the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 became law in December 2010, federal agencies have been able to offer greater flexibility to their employees. Weather incidents such as Hurricane Sandy also  illustrate the importance of enabling employees to do their jobs remotely.

“During Hurricane Sandy, we closed our offices, but we continued to serve our members. Because we had already provided employees with tools for working remotely, chamber staff were able to telework from the safety of their homes,” said Nancy Hiteshue, vice president of communications and government affairs at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber recently hosted the first Northern Virginia Telework Summit, where state and local policymakers discussed the topic with business leaders. Hiteshue added that a chamber survey of area businesses showed that teleworking offers a number of benefits, including greater employee productivity and reduced traffic congestion, with commute time becoming work time.

For a centralized approach to telework, the Mason Enterprise  Center (MEC) is an economic development “incubator” providing all the services necessary for a person to telework, or for a small business to operate. In Prince William, locations can be found at the George Mason University Prince William Campus in Manassas and Crown Court Plaza in Woodbridge.

Both facilities include professional office workstations, high-speed internet, conference rooms, free parking and a full-service kitchen.

The Manassas MEC location also provides business counseling and startup resources. With 11 private offices available, 19 cubicles, a large conference room that seats 15 guests and a “drop-in” office  that can accommodate up to four, who needs the hassle of commuting?

The Woodbridge location provides nine private offices and four cubicles on the first floor, and 12 offices on the floor above. It also has a spacious conference room that seats 25. A smaller conference room is also available.

Another option that seems to be growing rapidly, according to MEC regional manager Renee Younes, is the virtual office, which provides entrepreneurs with mail service, telephone and conference room accessibility. Visit for more information.

Vociferous in his promoting of telework, Al Alborn, chairman of the Prince William Chamber Telework Task Force, is working with Va. Congressman Gerry Connolly and Va. Delegate Rich Anderson to promote telework. “Both are pursuing initiatives to take our people off the road,” Alborn wrote on his blog,

The Future is Bright

Easing traffic congestion is a complex issue. Luckily, here in the Prince William region, we are treating it that way, tackling the problem from every angle. From the new HOT lanes, to ride sharing, to skipping the commute altogether, Prince William residents have a lot to look forward to.

A graduate of American University’s School of Communication,  Olivia Overman has written articles for a number of online and print publications. She can be reached by email at


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