Hoping to alleviate congestion caused by the Springfield "Mixing Bowl" project, the Virginia Department of Transportation officially opened a 280-space commuter lot in Prince William County yesterday.

Located at Routes 234 and 1 in Dumfries, the new lot is part of an effort to redirect commuters from the regular lanes on Interstate 95 to the HOV lanes via commuter buses, car pooling and "slug" lines. VDOT officials said the new Prince William lot--the county's 16th--specifically targets commuters who have overflowed lots on Route 610 in Stafford County and on Horner Road in Prince William while sticking with the goal of moving lone drivers off the highway and into the commuter system.

The lot is the first of four park-and-ride projects slated for Prince William locations in the next two years, including the expansion of two existing lots and improved access to the lot at I-95 and Route 123. VDOT spokeswoman Joan Morris said yesterday that such park-and-ride options are vital to maintaining a smooth commute to and from the District.

"We would like to get about 2,500 cars out of the regular lanes during the morning rush hour," Morris said. "If we could get those cars out of the regular lanes and onto [Virginia Railway Express], onto OmniRide buses or into the HOV lanes, we should be able to keep commute times steady throughout the project. Obviously we can't improve the commute time, but maybe it won't deteriorate if we offer the right options or a wide enough range of options."

Nine OmniRide "Mixing Bowl Express" buses will service the lot and offer nonstop rides to downtown Washington via the HOV lanes on I-95.

As of yesterday, Morris said, the lot was getting little use by commuters, and a few dozen cars were parked there yesterday morning. She said that commuter use of the lot likely will pick up after the holiday season, which has had a significant decrease in traffic.

There is an average 72 percent usage rate of VDOT's commuter lots in Prince William, with some lots filling to capacity and others going largely unused. The new lot aims to help crowding while also providing additional spaces for the future, when the project likely will have a greater impact on the region's traffic.

"It's something of a blessing that not everything is at capacity, because as the project has more impact on commuters, we will be needing those spaces," Morris said, adding that Prince William is slated to get 500 additional spaces by fall 2001.

Construction on the lot at Routes 234 and 1 began last summer, and VDOT spent about $350,000 preparing it for use.

Construction crews began demolishing the former Hechinger's building at Old Bridge Road and Route 123 yesterday afternoon in the first stages expanding the adjacent commuter lot, which is one of the county's busiest.

CAPTION: Construction crews began demolishing the former Hechinger's building at Old Bridge Road and Route 123 in the first stages of expanding the adjacent commuter lot, which is one of Prince William's busiest. Chris Johnson, of C and C Johnson, rips down the walls of the building, left and above. The demolition will make way for more than 150 parking spaces.