D.C. Traffic Creeps Toward Nation's Worst

By Steven Ginsberg and Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Gridlock has increased its stranglehold on the region, as a national study released yesterday showed that Washington area residents spend an average of 69 hours a year in traffic jams at a cost of $577 per commuter.

The Washington area had the third-worst traffic congestion in the United States, behind Los Angeles and San Francisco, for the fifth year in a row. For those keeping score, local motorists spent an additional three hours a year in tie-ups, and the region closed the gap between second and third place, the study said. For commuters, the results of the study confirmed what they knew: Already unpredictable commutes are even less predictable, and things aren't getting better.

"This is like the Olympics of gridlock," said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "And I think our leaders have it wrong. I think they think we should be going for the gold. This is not an honor for which we should be proud."

The study, done by the Texas Transportation Institute and based on 2003 statistics, also found that congestion is worsening in metropolitan areas where too few roads and rail lines are being built.

The report concludes that "the current pace of transportation improvement . . . is not sufficient to keep pace with even a slow growth in travel demands in most major urban areas."

The study also said poor highway management and land-use planning contribute to the deteriorating state of travel.

It also showed that congestion in seven of the nation's 13 largest cities actually got a bit better. Washington was not one of them.

For commuters, that means more time in the car on choked highways and less time with their families.

The worst part of commuting for some people is how unpredictable it is from day to day.

"On average, it takes me 30 minutes, but sometimes it's 25 or an hour and a half, for no apparent reason," said Sarah Melville, who commutes between Lorton and Alexandria each day. And it's going to get worse for her because her office is moving to Crystal City, a two-mile change that she says will add 10 or 15 minutes to her trip.

"To be honest, I don't see it getting better any time soon," said Melville, who works for PBS. "That is really frustrating. If you want to live near a big city these days, I guess that's what you have to expect."

Ronald F. Kirby, transportation planning director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said: "Vehicle miles of travel are growing faster than capacity in almost every metro area in the country. Nationally, we're not adding road capacity at the rate we used to."

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