With the federal government in its 26th day of a partial shutdown, an analysis done by a local transportation group has found there is somewhat of an upside for drivers on Washington’s often super-congested highways and roads — fewer traffic jams.
According to an analysis done by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, there has been “considerable reduction in congestion on the region’s major roadways during the morning commute” with the federal government closed.
Travel time along Interstate 270 from Interstate 70 and Interstate 370 — a distance of about 24 miles — went from 49 minutes last January to 29 minutes this month. The times were compared on Wednesdays and Thursdays each year.
Along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, between Maryland 198 and U.S. 50, about 16 miles, the commute is four minutes less. And along the Beltway from Interstate 270 to Interstate 66, the travel time dropped by nine minutes.
The lighter traffic in the mornings, transportation experts said, is typical of what’s seen in the region in July and August.
But while drivers in the morning are able to get to destinations faster, evening commutes weren’t much shorter, the study found.
“Work trips make up a higher share of all trips during the morning rush hour, which explains the major drop in traffic that we are seeing due to the shutdown’s impact on our region’s economy,” said Kanti Srikanth, the transportation planning director at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “On the other hand, the afternoon rush hour includes a lot of nonwork trips — school pickups, errands and evening activities.”
According to the study’s authors, the D.C. region has more than 361,000 federal workers, and about 40 percent of them are affected by the partial shutdown. There’s another 400,000 federal contractors in the region.
To be sure, the analysis points out that an extended holiday break with some schools in the area not going back into session until Jan. 9 could also have had an effect on traffic. Other factors — like weather, crashes, fuel prices and construction — could have an impact and were not considered in the analysis.
The analysis also found that drivers were able to go faster on some major commuter routes with less traffic on the roads.
And for some drivers, the lower level of congestion means their commutes are also less costly. Along the section of Interstate 66 that runs from Northern Virginia into the District, where peak tolls for solo drivers have at times exceeded $40, there have been reports of fees during the shutdown at $3 and $7 during the morning commute.