Shutdown Meant Shorter Commute Times


WASHINGTON—Ronnie Raigrodski usually takes the MARC train from Baltimore to work, but since the government shutdown he’s chosen to drive to Greenbelt to take Metro into Washington.

“It would usually take two hours to get to Washington from Baltimore by car, but now it only takes an hour and a half,” Raigrodski said. “It’s been much less stressful.”

While the government shutdown that started Oct. 1 has meant frustration and financial insecurity for the furloughed, it’s meant easier commutes into Washington for some people, who have enjoyed an easier drive to and from work without sitting in the area’s notorious traffic. But Congress this week appears closer to working out a deal to end the shutdown, meaning traffic could soon return to its usual level.

With thousands of government employees sitting at home instead of going to work, rush hour commute times have been cut by as little as 10 percent, and as much as 50 percent, depending on location.

For example, the 24-mile stretch of road from the district to exit 148 in Virginia on Interstate Highway 95 ranked as the 21st worst road in the country last year, with traffic moving an average of 27 mph, according to Inrix, a company that that collects and analyzes traffic data.

Typically, that stretch takes 53 minutes at peak rush hour. During a recent evening rush hour, travel time for commuters took an average of 27 minutes.

Washington is one of the worst places to drive in the country, said traffic analyst Jim Bak, of Inrix. The area contains eight of the top 150 worst roads in the country, he said.

By comparing post-shutdown commute times with commute times from the week leading up to the shutdown, Bak and his team can determine whether traffic is flowing at a faster or slower rate of speed than normal.

Taking the Baltimore-Washington Parkway out of the district toward Powder Mill Road usually leaves commuters stuck in traffic. Driving usually takes 15 minutes to travel a little more than seven-and-a-half miles.

However, with fewer people on the roads, driving the same stretch of road is taking about nine minutes.

Fewer drivers, and less traffic, may also be having other positive effects.

Amanda Parker commutes to the Greenbelt Metro station, but she has been furloughed. Parker said she’s noticed drivers have been less aggressive since the shutdown.

And although many roads in Maryland have only had travel times cut by 10 minutes, Bak said that as those minutes add up, drivers save money at the gas pump.

“Typically, an average American car, not an SUV, sitting in traffic for an hour, consumes one gallon of fuel,” Bak said. “The average American spends between 40 to 50 hours a year sitting in traffic. In D.C. it may be more than that.”

Jonathan Chang commutes from Potomac to L’Enfant Plaza in Washington. Since the government shutdown his commute is drastically shorter, and much less stressful.

“Usually it takes me about an hour to an hour-and-a-half to get to work in the morning, but now it only takes me 40 minutes,” Chang said. “Driving is much better. There is less congestion and switching lanes is easier than it normally is.”

With fewer people on the road, commuters are also driving closer to free flow speeds, which are typically the same as the speed limit, Bak said.

“Since the shutdown it’s been smooth sailing on 95,” Raigrodski said. “You can do 65 to 70 mph, just like on a Sunday.”

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