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Slug Finds Fast Track To I-95

Slug line commuters east of I-95 have a choice now. Instead of going into central Springfield, parking in the commuter lot in Springfield Plaza and taking their chances dashing across Old Keene Mill Road to the lot by the empty Long John Silvers building where there is an unofficial "slug" pick up, they can now slug a ride at Springfield Mall.

The idea was the brainstorm of Del. Tom Bolvin (R-43rd) who looked at it as a commuter option six months ago when one commuter described the Old Keene Mill Road slug line.

"I talked to a friend of mine that slugged over there," Bolvin said. "There's none on our side of the highway for the people of Franconia or Kingstowne."

Bolvin met with Springfield Mall manager Jerry Robinson who agreed to the idea.

"The key was talking to the mall and getting them to buy into it, they have a big section over there," Bolvin said.

Gayle Spurr, mall marketing representative, noted the mall's cooperation with the Springfield community.

"Springfield Mall has always been active in the community. I think it [slug line] will help the community, give them another option," Spurr said.

Bolvin's assistant Julie Dime was involved in the effort.

"Before you had to go all the way to Old Keene Mill," she said.

The current lot in Springfield Plaza has an area by Liberty Travel and the Wachovia Bank that's cordoned off as commuter parking. The lot regularly fills up and has designated hours for commuter parking as well. People even park against curbs which are not really parking spaces. During work hours, no one seems to mind. The bank parking spaces are specifically marked as non-commuter parking.

Getting over to the eastbound side of Old Keene Mill is another story. Although pedestrians can use the sidewalk on the Amherst Avenue bridge, many opt to dash across Old Keene Mill Road. Bank employee Tanzima Ashrafi sees this feat on a regular basis.

"They just run across the street," she said.

Wayne Compton, manager of Starbucks in Springfield around the corner from the slug area, likes the slug idea. He's even thinking about offering a coffee discount to slug riders, like 10 percent off or a free "add shot," which is a shot of espresso in a cup of coffee. At the Springfield Starbucks, he currently offers Metro riders a free shot of flavored syrup with a Metro pass.

"I've never done it [slug commuted] but I think it's a creative idea. Anything we could do to reduce the number of cars on the highway," he said.

SLUG LINES are not marked, not sanctioned by anyone and have no real rules. One of the slug line Web sites, slug-lines.com, even runs a disclaimer stating "each person must be aware of the potential risks, hazards, and difficulties associated with accepting a ride with an unknown person. You must decide for yourself if slugging is an acceptable form of commuting."

The way it works is commuters with one or two riders that want to use the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes swing by the slug line and pick up an extra rider so they qualify for HOV-3. Although the line at Springfield Mall is currently being incorporated into the system, it wasn't apparent by looking at the bus stop outside JC Penney where it will be. It isn't even on various slug Web sites either. Sluglines.com lists eight Springfield lines, including slug lines at "Bob's (Big Boy restaurant) or Long John Silver; Cardinal Plaza; Daventry; Huntsman; Mobil Station; Rolling Valley; Saratoga; and the Sydenstricker Lot. Another site, www.slugvirginia.com, has information with the Long John Silvers stop.

"This location has been sold and now fenced off," the Web site said. "Local government officials are working the issue. Currently the slug line is in the Circuit City lot. Not sure if and when they will stop the line at that location. I will post any information I receive. If you hear anything or the line changes please drop me an e-mail."

On Tuesday, Sept. 9, Bolvin put his plan into action. Spreading the word is the first step, so he perused the line at the mall while Dime handed out flyers over in the Old Keene Mill lot. It will take more word-of-mouth advertising.

"It was pretty slow but that's to be expected," Bolvin said of the first day. "It's still getting off the ground."