Prince William County Residents Share Their Commuting Woes, and Their Ideas

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009

When Prince William County resident Morris Davis moved from Wyoming to Virginia four years ago, his 60-second commute became a 60-minute one -- and that's one way on a good day.

The Gainesville resident, who once walked between his home and work at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, said he now spends the equivalent of 1.5 workdays a week sitting on Virginia's roadways as he makes his way between the outer suburbs and Capitol Hill.

"Traffic is so unpredictable," said Davis, who drives a hybrid in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes. "I'm thankful for National Public Radio and its therapeutic effect on my sanity. Although I switch stations regularly 'on the eights' [to catch traffic reports] . . . even though knowing there's a backup doesn't get me home any sooner."

Davis is not alone in his commuting woes. According to a recent report from the Census Bureau, residents from Bristow, in western Prince William, have the longest average commute in the country.

The bureau's American Community Survey reported that Bristow residents top the longest commute list with an average one-way trip of 46.3 minutes. Dale City residents have the 12th-longest commute, averaging 41.3 minutes. The data cover 2005 to 2007 and are collected from more than 250,000 households each month.

"My initial reaction to hearing that the average commute for Prince William residents is 46 minutes was 'I wish.' I handily eclipse the average and help make us Number 1," Davis said. "If someone could guarantee me a 46-minute commute every day, I would take it in a heartbeat."

After the report's release, The Washington Post solicited stories, such as Davis's, from commuters. The following are some commuters' accounts and their ideas to make the commute more manageable.

Mass Transit

"A solution to the commuting problem, in fact the whole traffic problem in Northern Virginia, requires a change of view and mentality," said Woodbridge resident Jeff Smith. "The solution is not more roads. Instead, we need to take those billions and simply run more local public transportation."

Smith, who leaves his house at 6 a.m., said it takes about 40 minutes to get to Fort Belvoir and more than an hour to return home. The key, he and many others said, is more bus lines that are reasonably priced and make frequent stops.

Commuter James Williams said he would like to see a Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission Metro Direct bus that connects to the West Falls Church Metro station leave from Bristow, also known as Linton Hall, more often. If that were the case, he said, he could simplify a commute that takes him an hour -- at best.

"They come in about 45-minute intervals, which is not frequent enough," he said. PRTC officials "may say they don't have the interest, but I think if they had a better schedule, they would get better ridership numbers."

Williams said he leaves the house at 5:20 a.m. and must drive 12 miles to a park-and-ride before hopping on a bus to the Vienna Metro station. From there, he takes Metro to Farragut West and walks a half-mile to work, arriving about an hour and 15 minutes after his departure.

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