Federal workers and contractors who still have to travel south on Interstate 270 are at least seeing an easier commute.
The shutdown has led to a considerable reduction in congestion on the Washington region’s major roads during the morning commutes, according to an analysis conducted by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. Similarly, Maryland’s MARC system has seen a sharp drop in the sale of monthly passes.
The biggest drops on the highways have been seen in the morning peak periods in traffic headed toward Washington, D.C., according to the analysis released Tuesday.
The average travel time at roughly 7 a.m. along southbound I-270 between Interstate 70 and Interstate 370 near Gaithersburg dropped from 49 minutes in January 2018 to 29 minutes in January 2019, according to the planning board’s analysis.
The report analyzed a series of Wednesdays and Thursdays in each year.
Meanwhile, the average speed for such trips increased from 29 mph to 49 mph for the same trips.
The average travel time from I-370 to Interstate 495 dropped from 20 minutes to 17 minutes, while the average speed rose from 35 mph to 45 mph.
Meanwhile, the analysis found that speeds and congestion at evening rush hours and other times of the day remained about the same as they historically have been.
That’s not unusual, said Kanti Srikanth, transportation planning director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, of which the Transportation Planning Board is a part.
Especially between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., most trips tend to be work-related, he said.
But in the evenings, people may go shopping or out to dinner before they travel home.
In congested traffic areas like the Washington region, even a small drop in volume can have a significant impact, Srikanth said.
Average traffic volume along I-270 has also dropped in January 2019 compared with the same month the previous year, State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar said in an email.
The average volume on Mondays at I-270 and Middlebrook Road, near Germantown, was 165,138 in 2018 and 147,089 in 2019, according to SHA.
Volume on Wednesdays was steady, at 174,347 in 2018 and 174,102 in 2019, while Fridays dropped from 189,157 in 2018 to 183,416 in 2019.
The shutdown has also affected MARC’s ridership.
MARC has seen a roughly 18 percent drop for January monthly pass sales, spokeswoman Sandy Arnette said in an email Wednesday.
The full impact of the shutdown on MARC’s ridership will be evaluated in the middle of February when all the data is gathered and compared with data from previous years, she said.
The TPB analysis notes that other factors such as weather, construction and gas prices could influence traffic patterns.
School schedules can also have an influence on traffic.
If people have to take their children to school or wait until they get on the bus, it affects the window of when they can leave for work, Srikanth said.
The analysis’ findings can serve as an object lesson on what type of impact even small changes in transportation choices can have in improving the region’s traffic, he said.
He said even a relatively small group of people changing from driving to public transportation or other methods could have an impact.
“The solutions don’t have to be so large that it almost prevents us from taking any action,” he said.