Q: Commute time to Rockville?
Hi, Dr. G. I live near H Street NE and am starting a new job next week in Rockville. I have no idea how to plan for traffic to get me there by 9 a.m. Do you or any chatters have suggestions for what time I should leave my home?
DG: That question came in during Monday’s online chat. I think the time for this terrible commute will depend a lot on the route and the mode of travel. My two suggestions on driving involved these building blocks: 1) I-395, the George Washington Parkway, the Capital Beltway inner loop and I-270; 2) New York Avenue, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the outer loop of the Beltway and either Rockville Pike or I-270.
Either way, there are potential trouble spots that make a time estimate difficult. As usual, I suggested experimentation with different routes. I also asked about the possibility of taking the Red Line from Union Station.
I didn’t get a chance to publish some of the comments that came in from readers, so here they are now.
H Street to Rockville
WMATA’s trip calculator shows a travel time of 37 minutes between Union Station and Rockville. Even adding time walking, biking, or busing to and from the stations, I wonder if driving during rush hour would get you there any sooner.
From H Street to Rockville
Metro. Or move.
In the comments section of the chat, HistoryAnn offered this driving alternative: “Depending on where on H Street NE, you could try getting on U.S. Route 29 north or switch over to Georgia Avenue north (avoids heavier Beltway traffic) to the Beltway and then taking the outer loop of the Beltway to I-270 north or Route 355 north depending, where in Rockville you are going.”
DG: I like the end of HistoryAnn’s route, but I’m not sure about the start. Let’s say we make the starting point be H and 8th streets NE. The new commuter might go north to Florida Avenue, then make a left on Florida and later a right to pick up Georgia. Easy to say: There’s almost certainly going to be a nasty knot of traffic around Florida and New York avenues. Northbound Georgia would be opposite the main rush hour direction. A slowdown would come just south of the Beltway in Silver Spring. But as HistoryAnn notes, the outer loop traffic tends to ease up after the Georgia Avenue interchange, so that stretch of Beltway should be okay — usually.
The choice of I-270 or Rockville Pike depends mostly on exactly where in Rockville the new job is.
The two driving routes I suggested have their own problems. I-395 (the Southeast-Southwest Freeway) doesn’t really have an inbound or outbound direction. It’s heavy in stretches both ways, morning and afternoon. On the George Washington Parkway, the commuter should fare all right north of the Key Bridge, until reaching a knot of traffic merging onto the inner loop heading toward the American Legion Bridge. From the inner loop, might as well stay left and go up I-270 rather than swing all the way around to pick up Rockville Pike.
On my second route, the commuter might be better off taking H Street east to Benning Road NE and onto D.C. 295, rather than my original suggestion of following New York Avenue out to the BW Parkway. (D.C. 295 becomes the BW Parkway at the District/Maryland line, and personally, I’d rather merge onto the parkway there, which is why I thought of New York Avenue, rather than Benning Road.)
But the real hard part of this route — and it’s harder than any other segment mentioned so far — is the outer loop from Greenbelt over to Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. That’s one of the slowest and most congested stretches of interstate in the D.C. region and it’s likely to stay that was for years. After a portion of the commuters exit at Georgia Avenue, the traffic usually lightens up, as HistoryAnn said.
To be at work at 9 a.m., I’d start at 7:30 a.m. on Day One, and then see if I could shrink that.
But I’d also try walking to Union Station and taking the Red Line toward Rockville. This will be challenging in its own way. The Red Line has many delays, and it’s likely to be standing room between Union Station and Dupont Circle. It gets better after that. The trip will cost $5.90 each way at rush hour, and there may need to be a link to Metrobus or Montgomery County’s Ride On at the north end, but I still think it might beat a drive of 25 to 35 miles across some of the nation’s most congested streets and highways.
Out of the options I’ve mentioned, the one most likely to get better is the Metro ride, with the addition of new rail cars over the next few years. The drives? I don’t see anything in the pipeline likely to help on any of the alternative routes.