D.C.-area commutes taking longer than ever

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Photo - Commuters face daily congestion on I-270 between Frederick, MD and the beltway. In Rockville, MD on Tuesday July 21, 2009.

Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Commuters face daily congestion on I-270 between Frederick, MD and the beltway. In Rockville, MD on Tuesday July 21, 2009. Andrew Harnik/Examiner
Local,Liz Essley,Metro and Traffic

More than 25% of D.C. workers have hourlong commute

Washington-area residents are spending more of their day commuting to and from their D.C. jobs, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

D.C. outstrips every state in the nation with its percentage of commuters taking an hour of travel time -- 27.4 percent, or more than 200,000 people in 2011. New York is next, with 18.2 percent.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey

By the numbers
805,518 people worked in D.C.
572,256 nonresidents commuted into D.C. for work
216,381 D.C. workers commuted more than an hour
17,320 D.C. workers commuted more than 90 minutes and 50 miles
The average commute times of Washington-area residents in 2011:
1. Prince George's County, 36.6 minutes
2. Montgomery County, 35.0 minutes
3. Fairfax County, 32.9 minutes
4. Alexandria, 30.7 minutes
5. D.C., 30.1 minutes
6. Arlington, 27.3 minutes
How Washington-area residents got to work in 2011:
Drove alone 1,962,108 66.1%
Carpooled 294,435 9.9%
Public transit 439,194 14.8%
Walked 94,698 3.2%

Even more people opted for the long commute in 2011 than in 2005, when 24.5 percent of D.C.-area workers trekked an hour or longer to work.

Overall, the average commute time for Washington-area residents has climbed over the past few years to 34.5 minutes in 2011, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

In 2005, the average commute took 33.4 minutes.

For Fairfax resident Tracy Compton, commuting to D.C. is a 90-minute trek by car, train and foot.

"I tried first by car, and that was incredibly stressful. Then I tried the Metro from Springfield, where my husband works. That was really stressful because I had to coordinate meeting up. And then I started taking the [Virginia Railway Express], and that has been the least stressful," she said.

Most Washington-area residents -- 66.1 percent -- drove alone to work in 2011. Another 14.8 percent took transit, and 9.9 percent carpooled. Only 3.2 percent walked.

Compton is among those who have decided to move farther away from their jobs for a shot at better housing. She exchanged a 30-minute commute for a 90-minute trek to get a bigger house and better schools for her 1-year-old child.

"Up until now we've had a pretty strong economy, and we have difficulty in this region providing enough affordable housing for our workers," said Ron Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "So people tend to drive further out to get affordable housing, and that is one of the drivers for longer trips."

That's been true for Sterling resident John McMahon, who pays either $10.50 in one-way transit fares or $22 for one day's parking to get to his office in Southwest D.C. But he's not ready to move closer to the city.

"If we move in, I think we'll end up paying more for housing than we are now. I think we're kind of stuck in a Catch-22," he said.

Housing is also a factor for "megacommuters" -- people who drive more than 90 minutes and more than 50 miles. D.C. had a higher percentage of them than any state in 2011, as more than 2 percent of D.C. workers -- more than 17,000 people -- had megacommutes. Most of them came from Virginia's Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, Maryland's Frederick and Baltimore counties, and West Virginia's Berkeley County.

Staff reporter Matt Connolly contributed to this report.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner