Commuting in Virginia
One of the biggest concerns newcomers have when they move to Virginia is commuting.
Northern Virginia and the DC Metro area is the seventh worst metropolitan area for commuting times according to Forbes Magazine. AOL Find a Job rates it #3. Either way, the area consistently rates in the top ten with an average of 60 hours a year spent commuting.
The good news is that there are tons of options for people who commute.
The two train systems that service Northern Virginia are Metro and the Virginia Railway Express. Metro has three lines that extend into Virginia. The Orange, Blue and Yellow Lines all have terminal points in Virginia. Users of the Orange line can travel all the way to Vienna. The Blue line terminates in Franconia-Springfield, and the Yellow line, the shorter of the three, has a final stop in Huntington, just outside the Beltway in Alexandria.
The VRE on the other hand is a larger commuter train that has two lines. The VRE Manassas (Blue) Train line goes more or less East-West, and the Fredericksburg (Red) Line Train takes a North-South route all the way into Fredricksburg. On the Manassas line, the stations are parallel to Metro stations starting with the Alexandria station which is adjacent to the King Street Station. The Fredericksburg line meets Metro at Franconia-Springfield and the next four stops are identical to the Manassas line stops.
The most obvious commuting takes place along the area's main corridors, I-95, I-395, I-495, also known as The Beltway, and I-66.
I-95 runs North and South until it meets The Beltway at the Springfield Interchange. If you continue on into DC, you actually are now on I-395, which more or less runs southwest to northeast into downtown DC. If you want to continue on I-95, you will join up with The Beltway, or 495 heading East towards the Wilson Bridge. 495 then continues around, while I-95 will take a turn northeast on into Baltimore. You could also take The Beltway in the opposite direction, west from the Springfield Interchange which will take you around DC on the west. Going this direction will take you to Route 66 as well as the Dulles Toll Road, and then on into Maryland via the American Legion Bridge and eventually I-270.
Commuting this way requires plenty of lead time (i.e. leave EARLY) and plenty of patience. It might be difficult at first, but trust me, you WILL get used to it. If this just doesn't appeal to you, there are ways to make it a bit more pleasant. One of them is carpooling and using the HOV Lanes.
HOV Lanes are special lanes for those who carpool. I-95 and I-66 both have HOV lanes for carpoolers. In order to use the HOV lanes, you must have the required number of people in the vehicle at all times. HOV enforcement times and occupancy requirements are as follows:
I-95 & I-395 HOV lanes
HOV-3: Separate median lanes from Washington, D.C. to Dumfries
- Northbound 6 - 9am
- Open to all traffic: 9-11am, Fridays 9-10am, 4pm Sat. - 6am Mon.
- Closed: 11am - 1pm, Fridays 10am - Noon, Saturday 2 - 4pm
- Southbound 3:30 - 6pm
- Open to all Traffic: 1 - 3:30pm, 6-9pm, Fridays Noon-3:30pm , 6pm Fri. - 2pm Sat
- Closed: 9 - 11pm, 2 - 4pm Sat.
HOV-2: Far left lane, between Manassas Route 234 and I-495 (outside the Capital Beltway)
- Eastbound 5:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
- Westbound 3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
HOV-2: Both lanes between I-495 and Washington, D.C. (inside the Capitol Beltway); eastbound non-HOV traffic must exit onto I-495
- Eastbound 6:30 - 9am
- Westbound 4 - 6:30pm
Dulles Toll Road
HOV-2: Far left lane
- Eastbound 6:30 - 9:00 am
- Westbound 4:00 - 6:30 pm
You cannot talk about driving and HOV without mentioning "slugging". There are many things that make the Washington DC area unique. But one of the most unique is the phenomenon of "slugging". Slugging is a transportation system that grew out of driver's needs to use the HOV lanes legally, and other's desires for a cheap, reliable way to get to work quickly and not have to drive. Slugging, in a nutshell, is basically carpooling with strangers everyday. Its a symbiotic relationship between drivers and riders with its own set of etiquette rules, and meeting places that are pseudo-sanctioned by state transportation authorities-- a sort of sophisticated, organized hitch-hiking.
Starting some time in the late 70s, strangers came together to share rides into downtown. Drivers enjoyed the legal use of HOV, and riders enjoyed the shortened commute. It is estimated more people use slugging than any other form of transportation around here.
To read more on slugging, take a look at www.slug-lines.com. My good friend, David LeBlanc authored the book on slugging and maintains this website. There you can check out slug line locations, etiquette rules, news articles and even poems about slugging.
Many commuters travel by bus to the Pentagon and downtown DC. OmniRide is the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission's commuter bus service. This service runs on weekdays and serves the I-95 corridor and Manassas and Gainesville areas along the I-66 corridor to destinations that include the Vienna, West Falls Church and Franconia/Springfield Metrorail Stations, the Pentagon, Crystal City, Rosslyn/Ballston, downtown Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill, and the Washington Navy Yard.
Other local bus transportation in Virginia includes Metro Bus (all over), the Fairfax Connector (Fairfax County) Arlington Transit (ART) (Arlington), CUE Bus (City of Fairfax), DASH (Alexandria), and George (Falls Church).
Coming Soon! HOT Lanes!
Actual Commuting Times
While there are many options for commuters, and commute times vary, here are some examples of actual commuting times of people who live here:
M.B., Springfield, VA - Departs 7am. Drives 4 miles to Springfield Metro station, takes blue line to Foggy Bottom, walks 1/2 mile to office. Total miles, about 12, total time one way: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
C.W., Alexandria, VA - Departs appx. 7am. Walks .4 miles to bus stop, travels 2.1 miles on bus to Van Dorn Metro station, takes metro rail to downtown DC, walks half a block to office. Total miles, about 13, total time one way: 1 hour, 5 minutes. (Time reduced by 15 minutes if C.W. drives to the metro station.)
R.B., Lake Ridge, VA - Departs approximately 6am. Drives to commuter lot. "Slugs" to Arlington, VA. Walks from 23rd St. to office. Total miles, about 23, total time one way: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
C.B., Stafford, VA - Departs approximately 6:30am. Drives 3.5 miles to the commuter lot, "slugs" to L'efant Plaza. DC, and walks about 1/4 mile to office. Miles: about 50. Total commute time: 50 minutes.
T.T., Springfield, VA - Departs approximately 8am. Drives 3.5 miles to work. 8-10 minutes.
D.L., Burke, VA - Departs approximately 7:30am. Drives 7.5 miles to office in Alexandria. Total time: 20-25 minutes.
C.M., Alexandria, VA - Departs early in the a.m. Drives 30 miles to Arlington, VA. Total time, average 30 minutes.
J.M., Arlington, VA - Drive 8-10 miles by car to downtown, parks in city garage. Total time: anywhere from 15-30 minutes depending on traffic.
A.L., Alexandria, VA - Drive on HOV 7 miles to Pentagon. Average time: 15-20 minutes.
N.K., Alexandria, VA - Drive 5.5 miles to another part of Alexandria. Depending on traffic and weather, 15 minutes to up to 60 minutes.