A Dubious Distinction: The Longest Ride in U.S.

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Open Meadow Lane seems pretty ordinary.

The kids in the cul-de-sac on scooters. The developer-planted saplings. The vinyl siding homes, each just slightly different.

But the residents of Open Meadow Lane are special. According to the Census Bureau, they have the longest average commute in the country. The entire United States.

"Number one, huh?" said homeowner Michael Kasun, 42. "I wish it was for something else, like oil in the ground."

Open Meadow Lane is in one of the many new developments off Linton Hall Road in western Prince William County. Census figures show that its residents have an average one-way commute of 46.3 minutes, compared with the national average of 25.1 minutes. This is the first of what will be annual detailed reports that go down to the neighborhood level.

To some Washington area commuters who spend more than an hour in the car each way, 46 minutes might not seem like a lot. But it's an average that includes people with five- and 10-minute commutes. The 46.3 minute average is longer than commutes in the New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago areas. Three other Washington area communities made the top 12: Fort Washington and Clinton in Prince George's County and Dale City, also in Prince William.

What these communities have in common is their distance not only from the District, the region's traditional jobs core, but also from the suburban job centers that have emerged over the past 30 years. It illustrates just how many Washington area workers have embraced the tradeoff between a long commute and affordable suburban living. The crisscrossing across the region from home to work to home again is one of the key reasons why the Washington area has the second-worst traffic congestion in the country, behind Los Angeles.

The rankings were compiled from three years of responses from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which collects information from more than 250,000 households a month. The recently released data cover 2005 to 2007, with information from locations with as few as 20,000 residents.

Alan E. Pisarski, a travel behavior analyst and author of "Commuting in America," said the lack of jobs near these residential communities forces almost every worker into a long commute, raising the overall average. And although there are many Washington area workers who make so-called supercommutes from such places as West Virginia and Delaware, they are still a relatively small percentage of residents of those areas.

Pisarski sees such places as Linton Hall as a "brand-new suburban location, where the job activity and opportunities have not caught up. It's the definition of a bedroom community," he said.

Linton Hall isn't even technically a community or town. The Census Bureau refers to the area as a "Census Designated Place." Locals call the area Bristow.

Pisarski said Fairfax County residents faced the same situation in the 1980s. But the county has become a jobs center, particularly Tysons Corner, which means many of its residents can live and work in the county, lowering average commute times.

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