Drivers say Washington region's traffic has gone from bad to worse

Traffic backs up near the Seventh Street entrance to I-395 in the District. Commuters say congestion has worsened, a poll shows.
Traffic backs up near the Seventh Street entrance to I-395 in the District. Commuters say congestion has worsened, a poll shows. (Linda Davidson/Post)
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By Ashley Halsey III and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 12, 2010

Most people say traffic has gone from bad to worse in the Washington region, which perennially ranks as one of the most congested in the nation, with more than a quarter of workers occasionally skipping their commute entirely and dialing in from home, according to a new poll by The Washington Post.

Traffic congestion has become a form of personal purgatory for the million and a half regional residents who commute to work every day, each spending an estimated 62 hours a year battling heavy traffic. Sixty percent of people surveyed say traffic has grown worse in the past five years.

A sizable number of those polled say they are taking steps to avoid a difficult commute. For IT consultant Rob Cosgrove, 46, of Leesburg, telecommuting offers "a little bit of relief" from his daily slog to his office in Crystal City. Michelle Padfield, 34, of Bowie dials into her job with the federal government one day every other week, "mostly for the convenience," she says, but "I'm able to get more work done at home than I am in the office. There are less interruptions."

Overall, among those employed outside the home, 28 percent have decided to bypass the gridlock by working remotely, and the same amount report that they have moved closer to work to ease their commutes. About four in 10 people who telecommute say they do so at least once a week.

Not everyone has the option to work at home using a computer, and the poll shows big income differences among those who have the option to telecommute and those who don't.

Nearly half of workers from families who make $150,000 or more each year say they've telecommuted, compared with 10 percent of those from households with incomes of less than $50,000. There is also a big racial gap among those who telecommute, but it's largely bridged when income is taken into account: Whites and nonwhites in households making at least $50,000 are about equally likely to say they've dialed in for work.

But with a fast-growing population that remains largely dependent on cars, the poll shows that throughout the Washington region, plenty of highway headaches remain.

George Katsotis knows where and when to find them. His commute from Rockville to Dupont Circle is 30 minutes at sunrise and more than double that if he leaves at 8 a.m.

"New York Avenue coming out of D.C. is a parking lot all the way to 295 between 4 and 6 o'clock" in the evening, said Katsotis, 26, a salesman who spends much of his day behind the wheel. "Of course, 295 is a parking lot then, too. Now, 270, if it's already 3:30, don't even bother with it until 7. I was out at Tysons Corner the other day, and it was so bad that I just went to Starbucks and worked on my laptop."

'Absolute gridlock'

About six in 10 of those polled say they get around by car "nearly all the time," and most area commuters drive solo to work. About 20 percent take some form of public transit. Those who commute from the suburbs to the District are more apt to use Metrorail as their primary mode of commuting.

Most commuters say they spend more than 30 minutes a day heading into work, with the average commute coming in at 35 minutes. Many face longer travel times, however, with 16 percent reporting their daily trip to work consumes an hour or more.

In finding ways to minimize commute times, the poll suggests there may be an incentive to getting in the car rather than on the train. Those who drive spend a bit less time traveling to work (33 minutes on average) than their public-transit-riding counterparts (44 minutes).

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