We have often commented on the crippling traffic congestion in Frederick County and throughout the Washington region, noting that it was hurting the standard of living of current residents and harming future economic development.
Now comes the 2019 Urban Mobility Report to put hard numbers to the pain our commuters are suffering. The time and money lost by commuters within Frederick County are bad enough. But our friends and neighbors who leave the county every day to work in Montgomery County, Northern Virginia or Washington, D.C., are the worst victims of this congestion.
The study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute reported that commuters in the county lost 27 hours and $556 per vehicle commuter in 2017 because of traffic congestion. Those numbers represent lost time during rush-hour as opposed to making the same trip during off-hours.
Those are significant but not overwhelming numbers. The more shocking numbers are included in the report on the greater Washington region, which ranks in the study as the third worst traffic area in the country, only behind Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Even more alarming, the region is among the leaders in the country in use of mass transit. Shifting resources to mass transit while under-investing in highways does not work.
Overall, Washington commuters lost 102 hours and $1,840 per year due to congestion. Even those staggering numbers under estimate the reality for many Frederick residents who head south on Interstate 270 each morning.
Commutes from Frederick or New Market to the Rockville area can frequently take 90 minutes at rush hours for a drive that should be 30 minutes. If a commuter loses two hours each work day for a round trip, the cost would be two hours times five days a week for 48 weeks a year, or 480 hours.
Traveling to Bethesda, the District or Northern Virginia can take even longer.
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reported in 2015 that 112,575 Frederick County residents were employed in primary payroll jobs. Of those, 23.9 percent — almost one in four — commuted to Montgomery County to work. An additional 5.8 percent traveled to Northern Virginia and 2.7 percent went all the way to the District. That is almost a third of the Frederick County workforce.
For comparison, fewer than four in 10 of workers living in the county — only 39.4 percent — stay in Frederick County to work.
We have supported the plans of Gov. Larry Hogan to add toll lanes to I-270 as a way to increase capacity, and we have called several times on the state to widen U.S. 15 which is clogged with traffic in both directions every morning and afternoon.
We need to do both of those projects as swiftly as is humanly possible, plus a whole lot more. We need more mass transit, more ride-sharing and we need to employ technology to improve traffic flow and help drivers. We need new solutions and better utilization of existing resources too.
We need to act before congestion strangles the life out of our region.
This is the chilling conclusion from the mobility report:
“Congestion is back to its growth pattern. The 8- to 10-year growing economy has brought traffic congestion to the highest measured levels in most U.S. cities. The myriad possible solutions — from more highways, streets and public transportation; better traffic operations; more travel options; new land development styles; advanced technology — have not worked.”
The report continues:
“Each region should use the combination of strategies that match its goals and vision. There is no panacea. And the decade-long recovery from economic recession has proven that the problem will not solve itself.”