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D.C. commute is nation's worst

It’s official. If you commute to the Washington, D.C. area, you’re No. 1.

But in this case, being No. 1 is not a good thing. It simply means you have the worst commute in America.

According to Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s recent release of its annual Urban Mobility Report, the D.C. area beat out such congestion hotbeds as New York City, Los Angeles and Boston.

Local commuter Patrick Howe isn’t surprised.

“A buddy of mine warned me about it,” said Howe after he got off a Martz bus at the U.S. 17 commuter lot in Stafford County on Tuesday evening.

Howe moved to the area from Florida about six months ago for a government contracting job in Washington. Riding the bus, he said, makes the commute bearable, except at the Dumfries choke point where Interstate 95’s general lanes and HOV lanes merge, leading to massive daily backups.

“We can’t have it all,” he said.

Heidi Cancelleri agrees with that sentiment, and this comes from someone who commutes from Doswell to D.C., roughly 2½ hours each way.

“It stretches you,” said Cancelleri, who drives to the Fredericksburg area and then slugs to Washington, where she is a video producer for God TV.

“It’s worth it, because I get to work my dream job,” said Cancelleri, who softens the commuting blow by staying in D.C. with friends a couple of days a week.

Slugging and the HOV lanes make the trips bearable for Cancelleri, who has commuted for eight years.

“If it weren’t for the HOV, it would be impossible,” she said.

According to the transportation institute’s report, which covers 2011, the average commuter in the Washington area wastes about 67 hours a year stuck in traffic, the worst in the nation.

The D.C. area has topped this category the past four years, and has been in the top three every year since 1991.

Area commuters also waste the most fuel and spend the most because of congestion, according to the report. And the I–95 congestion sends more excess carbon dioxide into the air than any other major metropolitan area.

Overall, the report states that Americans lose 5.5 billion hours a year and waste an average of $818 each annually because of congestion.

“I don’t have to see the report, I drive it,” said Cord Sterling, Stafford County supervisor and a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, who commutes to D.C.

There needs to be more capacity, he said, in the form of expanded roads and mass transit options.

Funding is a big problem. It continues to be a major issue as the state’s transportation infrastructure has failed to keep up with population growth.

Sterling isn’t hopeful of a solution any time soon, pointing to the legislative gridlock in Richmond. The General Assembly has been haggling recently over Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to inject more money into transportation by eliminating the state gas tax and replacing it with an increase in sales taxes, among other changes.

Sterling supports the governor’s proposal, calling it a “viable approach.”

But he said the state’s leaders don’t seem to be working toward a solution.

“Everybody wants to get something done,” he said, “but damn few want to do anything to get it done.”

Stewart Schwartz with the Coalition for Smarter Growth said the congestion is a sign of an “economically successful region.” However, the lack of planning and funding have doomed the state’s transportation infrastructure.

A major part of the problem, he said, is the failure to link transportation, which the state oversees, and land-use planning, a function of local governments.

Schwartz said the McDonnell administration has ignored this approach and has focused too much on “wasteful projects.”

He said the governor’s transportation funding proposal is not the answer, either. In fact, he thinks eliminating the gas tax would lead to more congestion.

Instead of “throwing money at the problem” and building more roads, he said better regional and land-use planning along with improved mass transit options are the way to fix the transportation infrastructure.

In the meantime, thousands of area commuters will continue to make the worst daily commute in the nation.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

 

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