Region’s Longest Commutes Show Need for Smart Growth and Transit


Unsustainable Land Use and Infrastructure Practices Hold Lesson for the Stimulus

Today’s Washington Post (A-1, “A Dubious Distinction: The Longest Ride in the U.S.”) reports on Census Bureau data showing that residents of parts of Prince William and Prince George’s Counties have some of the longest average commutes in the nation. Key issues highlighted in the article:

1) Western Prince William residents live far from jobs, and where once there might have been more open space and uncrowded schools, builders built tens of thousands of houses, bottlenecking the main radial commuter route, I-66.

2) Prince George’s residents, most living much closer in than Prince William residents, have longer average commutes because of a severe shortage of jobs on the east side of the region.

“Typically VDOT and MDOT try to address the resulting traffic problems by widening highways like I-66 and the Beltway, but that’s a fools errand if you don’t address the underlying problems,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “For example, instead of widening the Beltway to 12 lanes as they propose, create policies and incentives for jobs and housing at Prince George’s 15 underdeveloped Metro stations.” (See photo (LINK) showing typical one-direction flow of traffic during the morning commute on the northern portion of the Beltway).

“As the nation considers the stimulus bill, we also need to consider how we have failed to take advantage of existing infrastructure, like the 15 Metro stations in Prince George’s County,” said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition. “Failure to invest in existing communities results in decaying infrastructure, and economic, social and safety problems. It is our top priority to help the county bring investment and jobs to these inside the Beltway Metro stations.”

Turning to Prince William County, “Traffic on I-66 and other major radial roads is a direct result of the unsustainable growth rates and patterns of development in western Prince William, Loudoun County and beyond,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council. “As a result, families here were hit hard by high gas prices on top of their time-losses, and the overbuilding and inconvenient locations have meant higher foreclosure rates and bigger price drops than in more convenient locations.”

“Smart growth solutions are essential, including providing more housing closer to jobs in the inner suburbs, using dedicated HOV/Bus lanes, improving VRE service, and making transit-oriented development (including VRE stations) the primary traffic and land use solution,” said Schwartz.

“Unfortunately, VDOT persists in pushing the same failed approaches such as their proposed ‘Tri-County Parkway’ a north-south segment of the controversial Western Transportation Corridor, which would open up even more land for more houses far from jobs and add to the tsunami of traffic on radial commuter routes like I-66, Route 29 and Route 50,” said Miller. “The real traffic problems are on I-66, but despite severe funding cuts affecting VRE and other transit services, and the continuing problems on I-66, VDOT says it will spend its scarce resources to continue the costly environmental studies for the Tri-County Parkway.”

“As a nation and as a region, we cannot afford the continuing disconnect between land use and transportation, and the separation of jobs, homes and services,” said Schwartz. “We cannot afford to chase distant development with new infrastructure without repairing the old. We must use the vacant and underutilized land in commercial corridors and near transit stations to create well-designed, mixed-use and walkable communities. We must make a network of rail and bus transit the spine for development. We must address where and how we grow, because we can’t simply pave our way out of this mess,” concluded Schwartz.


About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington D.C. region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website at