It's no secret: The commute from Prince William County to all points north is no enjoyable Sunday drive through the country, and the congestion is only getting worse with construction at the Springfield interchange.
Although the number of commuters using slug lines, public transportation and car pools has increased in recent years, traffic is still one of Northern Virginia's number one problems. This is especially true for Prince William County, which has one of the largest "slug" populations in the Virginia area, according to Sheila Larson, spokeswoman for the Potomac and Rappahanock Transit Commission.
Efforts to take the burden off the roads by encouraging telecommuting, van pooling and the use of public transportation are slowly taking root, even if they are not embraced by all commuters.
U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a telecommuting initiative in June that would offer incentives to businesses in the D.C. area that allow employees to telecommute. The House in October approved the initiative, which was part of the transportation spending bill.
Wolf's plan would give companies "pollution credits" if they allowed their workers to telecommute. The companies could then buy and sell the credits in deals with other businesses and nonprofit organizations.
The provision also provides a $350,000 grant for the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to form a working group with state and local governments and local business organizations and leaders to develop a regional telecommuting pilot program.
"I think that it's positive, and the measurable benefit will be slight for a while, but there is no doubt that every little bit helps," said Roger Snyder, Manassas director of community development.
Telecommuting advocates aren't just pushing legislation.
New telecommuting centers--office spaces that provide meeting rooms, cubicles and telephone and computer hookups--have been popping up in the region over the past several years, though they've had mixed success.
A telecommuting center on the Lockheed Martin campus in Manassas was founded about four years ago as part of a federal pilot program, and response has been tepid at best. The city is a partner in the center, along with Lockheed Martin and GSA. The center has 32 workstations and can accommodate about 100.
The rate to use the Manassas Telecommuting Center is $40 weekly and $200 monthly for federal workers, and more than double that for private-sector employees.
The Woodbridge Telework Center, located on Minnieville Road, opened in the summer with federal funding and is 48 percent full.
"We have some other [contracts] pending," said Helen Dickinson, director of the center. "We're relatively new, and that's pretty good for just having started."
There are 17 centers in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and the District, with one each in Stafford and Spotsylvania and three in Fairfax.
The telecommuting centers were originally intended for use by federal workers, but private-sector workers now are permitted to use the centers as well. However, there are only three private-sector users between Fredericksburg and Woodbridge, said Jennifer Alcott, the program director of the Woodbridge and Fredericksburg region telework centers.
"I think we're hoping to see a gradual increase," she said. "I don't think there's going to be a huge jump in private-sector use, because the ones who are willing to integrate it already are doing it. The others may take a while to get on board."
Employees who aren't willing--or aren't permitted--to use the telework centers have been taking advantage of public transportation. Larson said there has been an average of 2,500 passengers each day using OmniRide commuter buses to get to places north of Prince William County.
Overall, OmniRide ridership grew 5.4 percent in 1999.
The county's van pools averaged about 4,268 users per day in 1999, with the busiest month in August.
Larson said there was a slight decrease in the number of people signing up for formal van pool commutes this year, but more people have begun using informal "slug" commuting.
CAPTION: GSA employee Les Palumbo, of Manassas, works at the telecommuting center that was founded about four years ago on the Lockheed Martin campus.