KIRKLAND – Oct. 8, 2013 – Congressional gridlock and federal furloughs are having a mixed impact on traffic congestion in the nation’s capital and roads leading to Washington D.C. While travel times inside D.C. haven’t changed much, evening commutes between downtown D.C. and the outlying areas are taking drivers less time, in one case 50 percent less time.
INRIX, a leading international provider of traffic information and driver services analyzed travel times from Oct. 1 through Oct. 7 in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area finding traffic congestion is down 10 to 30 percent on many state highways and interstates during the evening commute.
By contrast, morning commutes are down by much less, only 1 to 5 percent with travel times between the morning and evening rush hours holding steady even increasing by a minute or two. For example, a mid-day trip into D.C. on Interstate 66 takes 13 minutes instead of 12. But the 3 p.m. commute on northbound MD-295 dropped from 22 minutes to 10 minutes.
“The government shutdown is easing commutes a bit, but if anyone was expecting wide open highways at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., it’s simply not happening,” said Jamie Holter, INRIX Traffic Analyst.
“Similar to a few years ago when we first saw the impacts of the recession on traffic, people are still driving, just not to work. They’re either out running errands or taking advantage of the unscheduled time off,” said Holter. “There is also more to D.C. than the federal government.”
Local streets inside the District show little change although K Street, traffic is lighter. Speeds on K Street typically drop from 25 to 15 miles per hour during the business day between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. as staff for local advocacy groups move around.
“Speeds are not dropping. Drivers are moving faster along K Street at 20 to 22 miles per hour which means there’s not a lot of congestion to weigh the traffic down,” said Holter. “This tells us there’s not a lot of activity at those think tanks and lobbying firms.”
Key insights include:
Inside Washington, D.C.
• K Street traffic is less congested during the working hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
• New York Avenue is less congested all times of day, but not by much. The most noticeable difference is at 8 a.m. when the travel time is three minutes faster than usual between I-295 and downtown. The peak commute takes usually takes 22 minutes and now takes 19 minutes. Aside from this peak difference, the other changes are negligible.
• Fourteenth Street inside D.C. is less slightly less congested during the peak commutes but just as busy during lunch time.
Between Washington D.C. and Virginia
• I-495 (inner loop) in Virginia is moving slightly faster between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and significantly faster between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The peak evening commute is down from 33 minute to 23 minutes. The outer loop shows little change.
• Interstate 395’s 10-mile commute between the Capitol Beltway and downtown D.C. (Pentagon City) showed the biggest change during the morning rush hour Oct. 1-5. The peak 8 a.m. commute usually takes 35 to 40 minutes. The first three days of the shutdown, the commute took about 15 minutes. That’s more than 50 percent drop. By Oct. 7, that commute was creeping back up to 20 minutes at 8 a.m.
• I-66 from Centerville to D.C. shows significant time savings during the peak morning and evening commute. The evening westbound commute is down 30 percent. At 5 p.m. a 46 minute drive now takes 30 minutes. The morning eastbound commute is faster between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. with the greatest time savings at 9 a.m. when travel times dropped from 46 minutes to 28 minutes.
Betweend Washington D.C. and Maryland
• I-295 between the Beltway and I-695 shows little change except in the afternoon northbound commute. In the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., the peak commute travel times decreased. The greatest difference is at 4 p.m. when a 33 minute commute took 22 minutes.
• I-95 between the Beltway and MD-100 shows some change. The afternoon commuter saved about eight minutes during the peak evening commute. A typical commute takes about 35 minutes. At 5 p.m. it’s taking 27 minutes. The morning commute shows little change.
“Conventional wisdom would have traffic change drastically during the federal shutdown. We’ve certainly seen some speedier commutes, but it hasn’t been the big traffic break many were predicting,” said Holter.
“The long commutes show a decrease. This makes sense because a number of career federal workers live outside the Beltway and they aren’t coming to work. Inside the Beltway, people are still moving around.”
Washington D.C. is the 10th most congested city in America and drivers spend an average of 41 hours stuck in congestion annually. If the shutdown lasts through the entire month of October, Washington D.C. could see its ranking drop to 13th most congested city for the month of October which would put it between Portland and Chicago. The Washington D.C. area has eight corridors on the most congested corridors list.