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Painful Commutes Don't Stop Drivers

Even With 30-Minute Trips, Most in D.C. Area Pass Up Public Transit, Poll Finds

By Richard Morin and Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page A01

Washington area residents spend far longer getting to work and find themselves in daily traffic jams three times as often as commuters elsewhere, according to new local and national polls by The Washington Post.

Half of the region's commuters spend 30 minutes or more traveling to work, or an hour each day to get to their jobs and back home. Even when compared with commuters in other major urban areas, the surveys suggest that Washington residents spend significantly more time on the road.

After driving into the District from Frederick, Charles McClister takes Metro from the Van Ness station to Judiciary Square to get to his Labor Department job. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

_____The Survey_____
Complete Results
_____More from the Post_____
Behind the Steering Wheel, A Driver Feels the Squeeze (The Washington Post, Feb 13, 2005)
_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: Steve Ginsberg and Rich Morin discussed The Washington Post commuter survey.

One big reason that drives are longer here is because traffic tie-ups are far more frequent. Nearly 6 in 10 commuters say they get tangled up in traffic jams at least once a week. And more than 1 in 4 -- 28 percent -- said they encounter serious tie-ups every day, compared with 9 percent of commuters nationally.

In spite of increasingly long and frustrating commutes, the survey found that Washingtonians remain addicted to their cars. Three in four area commuters drive to work alone. Carpooling is no more prevalent here than it is elsewhere in the country. Metro is widely admired but largely bypassed, a boutique transportation system that serves a hard-core constituency but is viewed by most commuters as inconvenient.

Overwhelming majorities of residents in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs and 4 in 10 District residents agree that congestion along their commutes has become progressively worse in the past five years, and most people in each jurisdiction predict that it will only get worse.

Transportation officials and experts said the results show a network in collapse.

"Our transportation systems are breaking down and failing," said Virginia Transportation Commissioner Philip A. Shucet. "We are quickly coming to a point where we're not able to provide a minimum level of service in our core transportation needs."

Solid majorities of area residents polled support a variety of big-ticket items to help ease traffic congestion, from extending Metro to Dulles International Airport to building an intercounty connector in the Maryland suburbs. Half would even be willing to pay higher gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects, compared with a third nationally.

Personal Solutions

Commuters also are taking matters into their own hands: Two-thirds say they have adjusted their travel schedules, moved, changed jobs or transferred to a different work location to ease their commute.

The one thing they seem most unwilling to do is give up their cars, so they accept long and frustrating commutes as the price for other lifestyle choices.

"I endure it," said John Miller, 49, a recruiter for a federal intelligence agency who spends an hour driving the 25 miles from his home in Springfield to his office in Reston. "I have to go to work, I like where I live, so whatever [the commute] is doesn't matter."

To measure attitudes toward commuting, The Post interviewed 1,003 randomly selected adults in the Washington area Jan. 27 to 31. At the same time, The Post joined with ABC News and Time magazine to conduct a nationwide survey of 1,204 adults that asked many of the same questions, allowing a direct comparison between the experiences of area commuters with their counterparts elsewhere.

Government officials said they have all but given up on attempts to do anything extraordinary to solve area transportation problems. Instead, they are trying to broaden commuting options for people by experimenting with such proposals as allowing drivers without passengers to pay to use carpool lanes. But they said there was little they can do if people continue to live farther and farther from their jobs.

"There's nothing we can do to fix it," said Dan Tangherlini, the District's transportation director. "There are things we can do to try to influence it. But it is a little frustrating when most people sit around and agree that people are making all the wrong choices and yet more and more people are doing it."

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