Commuting to D.C.

The Washington Post profiles Marc Turner, who commutes every day to D.C. from Charlottesville. Why? He likes living in Charlottesville, but wants the pay that comes from working in D.C. The Census Bureau classifies Turner and those like him as “extreme commuters,” and they’ve doubled in number between the last two censuses.  #

24 Responses to “Commuting to D.C.”


  • He likes living in Charlottesville, but wants the pay that comes from working in D.C.

    So do I — but I do it by telecommuting, not by giving up 1/6 of every day to sit in traffic. To me, the hassle factor and expense wouldn’t be worth the extra $30K that my job pays over what the exact same position is worth locally. And don’t people choose to move here for the “quality of life”?

    Sadly, working for a NoVa firm is the only way I can afford to own a house anywhere close to my beloved native C’ville.

  • I haven’t finished the article yet, so maybe I’m being too quick to judge. But so far, this seems like a huge waste of precious time and resources. I find it hard to believe that commuting 2 hours (if there’s no traffic) each way every day and sometimes getting a hotel room is cheaper than taking a lower-paying job close to home, especially with $3/gallon gas. Not to mention all that time that he could be spending with his family.

  • As I read the story, I saw a lot of myself. It’s not Charlottesville to DC and back, but Stuarts Draft to Charlottesville and back takes 40 minutes each way every day. The big differences?

    1. Between US-250, I-64, and US-340, I can average 60 MPH and I’m RARELY stuck in 5 MPH traffic. Any slowness in traffic is usually the result of a major accident; something that can happen on any commute. Well, except for the occasional slow truck going up Afton Mountain in the left lane.

    2. I commute with my fiancee.

    Given #2, I can deal with any traffic that may come up in #1 and anything else that may come up in the commute.

    In my opinion, Turner’s issues are more than the commute. He’s choosing money over time with his family. He’s choosing time spent in traffic over time spent with his kids. He’s putting his family last on his list of priorities and he’ll eventually pay the price.

    Whether it’s divorce, children who hate that he can’t spend time with them or show up for school events during the week, or some other way, he’ll pay the price.

    Forget gas and car maintenance, it’s that family price that will be more than any extra money he made in DC.

  • My husband works for a company with offices in Falls Church. He telecommutes.

    He’s been back up to DC three times for work since we moved in 2002. Commuting up there would be nuts.

  • There is no way that commute is much less than 6 hours a day round trip. What a waste…

  • It’s sad that the job market around here does not provide enough high paying jobs that match the cost of living. I would argue that in many ways Charlottesville is relatively more expensive than Northern Virginia. It’s true that housing in areas like Fairfax is extremely expensive but the pay up there matches that or at least comes close. Here things are priced well above average but the jobs still pay about average. I think the county and city need to start seriously looking into recruiting some high paying employers here to make the situation better.

  • UVA08

    The circle would contune. If we recruit companies that pay really well, then the non growth people would be up and arms. And they would fight not to have those companies come in because that might increase the population.

    I heard a few years ago, people were thinking about having a train from Cville to DC but again the non growth said that more nova people would move down here and hurt our ‘way of life’.

    Who knows?

  • Wow. I guess people do what they feel they have to do…I would point out that according to the story, the Marc Turner family didn’t necessarily need the higher income of the NoVa job–it said that he had a lower-paying job in Cville first but didn’t like the job, and that he loved the NoVa job. In the end of the story, he gets a lower-paying job in Cville and quits the NoVa job that, we are told again, he loved. So in that story it’s not quite “oh they can’t afford to live here without this job” but rather that he preferred the NoVa job.

    Also, the WVa couple seems to have made the decision to commute 2 hours to NoVa jobs in order to afford a large house (from the description it sounds like a typical mini-McMansion), which they got for something like $150K in their WVa town. Part of the issue here seems to be that we Americans have very high expectations for the kind of luxury we want to live in–we must all have 4 bedroom colonial-style two-story houses with large yards, two-car garage, decking, large kitchen, family room, etc. Some of us aspire to that ideal so much that we apparently think it’s worth driving 4+ hours to work every day and never having any really pleasurable time with family. I’m not trying to be snotty here–it’s just that we seem to have really fetishized this whole home=castle thing.

    There’s not a day that goes by that I do not feel EXCEEDINGLY lucky/blessed/grateful that my spouse and I are able to afford a house we love in an area we love and can still spend a lot of time together with our kids even though we both work. When I read a story like the one in the WP I do feel puzzled by the seemingly different commitments/priorities of the families in the story, but I mostly feel sorry that our culture seems to push so many of us out of balance.

  • IamDaMan2.3…. You know you are probably right hence the strange opposition to the NGIC move.

  • My day job is in DC, right in the heart of the city. Fortunately, my company opened up a satellite office in Charlottesville (all of 2 people), so I don’t have to do that ungodly commute, and I get to keep my DC salary. I am very, very, very lucky.

    I’m not sure how much extra they’d have to pay me to drive up there every day. It’s no small amount, that’s for sure. The reason I moved down here was to get away from the traffic/cost-of-living .. and even though people bitch about those here on a daily basis, it’s like night and day. Doesn’t even compare.

    Having *kids* and spending 4 hours of your day commuting? I hope I never have to make those kind of decisions.

  • “The reason I moved down here was to get away from the traffic/cost-of-living .. and even though people bitch about those here on a daily basis, it’s like night and day. Doesn’t even compare.”

    When you get a job that is actually based in Charlottesville like the rest of us then you tell us that the cost of living doesn’t compare. Like I said in terms of raw numbers housing may be more expensive in places like Fairfax but you can find jobs up there that match it. Here our housing is the second most expensive in the state but our salries don’t come anywhere near that. Part of the problem with housing around here is that a lot of people are making their fortunes elsewhere and then putting down a large enough down payment on a home to offset the lower paying jobs. Further, just because traffic may be worse in DC it doesn’t mean our’s isn’t bad. It’s like comparing a broken leg to a broken finger. The broken leg may hurt more but that doesn’t mean that the finger doesn’t still hurt.

  • We can all agree that this is a long commute, but I believe there are many people in the area who work in a satellite office and have good reason for regular face time in NOVA. If I may plug a little bit, I volunteer with C’ville Rail, an organization committed to establishing rail service for Charlottesville to Washington. We believe that rail service will be not only a great relief to people who frequent the Washington area, but it will also make it easier for tourists from the other direction to visit Charlottesville.

  • When you get a job that is actually based in Charlottesville like the rest of us then you tell us that the cost of living doesn’t compare.

    Just like I didn’t live in DC when I worked up there due to the high cost of living, I don’t live in Charlottesville when I work here. It’s much more economical to move out to a neighboring county and deal with a short commute.

    Further, just because traffic may be worse in DC it doesn’t mean our’s isn’t bad.

    I disagree. It’s not bad, period. Our versions of what ‘bad’ are surely differ, but I’m sure if you look at any traffic survey of worst traffic cities, Charlottesville won’t even come close to registering on the list.

  • I know another local who commutes to DC fairly regularly (a few times a week). He’s lucky enough to have a small condo in the DC area, so he can go up there and stay there if meetings require it. I can’t imagine a daily commute that long, though…which is why I paid what I needed to so that I can walk to work here.

    By the way, I travel for a few months each year and have sat in some of the worst traffic in the country. Charlottesville is a breeze compared to places like LA, Boston, NYC, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Our rush “hour” is all of 25 minutes it seems, while in some cities, you can sit in traffic at the most random times, even on weekends.

  • Yea, count me among those who can’t take any more of the brainwashing about how bad our traffic is. Yes, it’s annoying to sit on 29 for a few extra minutes between 4 and 6, and Park Street and Hydraulic can be obnoxious, but who is really being slowed down by more than maybe 10 minutes?

  • For the past two years, I have commuted to downtown DC, although I am fortunate that I have a place to stay up there on Mon & Thurs nights (and can telecommute on Wednesday), thus reducing driving to four one-way trips.

    Everyone’s story is different, and it is impossible to generalize. Some people have positions that are so specialized, those jobs simply do not exist outside of major metropolian areas (although being a paralegal in a law firm is not one of them). So you have to make a choice: is it better for you to live in a place where you want your children to grow up at the cost of being away from home two nights a week, or is it better to be home every night but live in a place you’d prefer not to be? You are always on the lookout for the elusive “third way” — taking a similar job closer to where you live — but until you can find it, you do what you need to do. Simply changing careers is not practical at a certain point in your life (even if you could afford the 50-60% pay cut).

  • I agree that the traffic situation is probably overblown. Even I am guilty of this. However, we should all remember that when making comparisons we do it to cities of similar sizes like Lynchburg or Danville or even Richmond. I think it’s a little ridiculous to compare the Charlottesville area which has a population of about 200-250K (depending on which counties you include) to places like DC where the population totals around 5 million. Also, a lot of the people saying “it’s not that bad” or “it’s not bad at all” are typically those who have moved here. Imagine for a second you were someone like my parents who were born here in the 1960s or my grandparents who were born here in the 1940s and 1930s or my great grandparents who were born here in the early 1930s and 1920s. My grandparents remember the days when Barracks was the fringe of the city and 29 was one lane on both sides. My mother can recall the first day the mall opened “way up 29.” My paternal grandmother grew up in Greene and can’t believe how much development has taken place up there. My maternal grandmother left the western part of the county to build a home in Keswick over 20 years ago. Back then you could whiz into town from the countryside in no time. Anyone ever try commuting to or from that side of town during peak hours now? I think those members of my family and people like them have a right to complain because to them traffic is bad compared to what it use to be. I, on the other hand, don’t have much excuse I suppose. I can barely remember when 29 was only two lanes on each side and Target has been officially open for 10% of my life (in terms of years).

  • Imagine for a second you were someone like my parents who were born here in the 1960s or my grandparents who were born here in the 1940s and 1930s or my great grandparents who were born here in the early 1930s and 1920s.

    I think those members of my family and people like them have a right to complain because to them traffic is bad compared to what it use to be.

    You have a right to complain because traffic density has increased in the last 70 years?

    I mean .. sure you do. I just don’t think it’s going to be taken very seriously.

  • “You have a right to complain because traffic density has increased in the last 70 years?”

    Not necessarily because it increased over 70 years. I was just using that as an example of people who have long standing ties to this area who have watched it change drastically over the course of their life. The fact of the matter is that transplants are generally going to have a different prospective on these type of things when compared to natives. Like I admitted though the traffic issue is probably overblown.

  • Well I’m a transplant, from a small midwestern college town (smaller than this town), and I think complaints about traffic here are completely overblown. I can see a local in his/her 70s being a little bewildered by all the cars and development, but anyone else griping about the intolerable nature of traffic out here is nuts, IMO. Sometimes I feel like every other driver on the road believes that no other cars should impede his/her ability to fly along at top speeds at all times and get every green light. I’ve seen driver pass other cars on Stony Point Road (Rt. 20)–a no-passing road from at least Stony Point Elementary all the way to Pantops. And the cars they’re passing are NOT chugging along at 25 mph, either–they’re simply not speeding, so the speeders pass on the left.

    I hear all the talk of needing an eastern connector to address all the “traffic” on Pantops and I’m wondering what is the problem, exactly? That it takes maybe 15 minutes longer to get from the Shadwell exit to the other side of Free Bridge at two specific times a day? This requires a bazillion dollar new road plus a bridge somehow to cross the Rivanna?

    Aargh.

  • The traffic on Pantops is real during certain parts of the day. There are no quotes needed. Just ask anyone who commutes from the eastern suburbs during peak hours. In the morning traffic is pretty thick from Free Bridge back to Shadwell at times. From my understanding and experience this is typically hit or miss. If you leave your home twenty minutes earlier or later you can typically miss it.

    “That it takes maybe 15 minutes longer to get from the Shadwell exit to the other side of Free Bridge at two specific times a day?”

    You do realize you are talking about a distance of perhaps three miles, right? Fifteen minutes alone would mean that it is taking you five minutes to get one mile which equates to approxmately twelve miles per hour on a road with a speed limit of forty-five. The fact that you said fifteen minutes LONGER indicates that it will take more time than that at peak times meaning that during certain points of the day you are probably averaging ten miles per hour or less on a road, again, with a speed limit of forty-five.

    Also, you must remember the talk of the Eastern Connector deals with more issues than just traffic on Pantops. It also ties into the idea of having a regional network of roads that moves traffic efficiently now AND in the future. One thing that gets me about people who say things like “oh there is no need for these new roads or lanes, traffic here is nothing… back where I am from….[insert horrible traffic situation here]” The idea behind transportation planning is making sure you stay ahead of the curve so that traffic doesn’t make it to the point where it’s at in places like DC. The problem with the Northern Virginia area was in part caused by the fact that the state lagged far behind housing developments when it came to transportation funding and planning. As the suburbs spread South and West the state was still operating as if the suburbs of DC extended no further than Fairfax County. We certainly do not want to be like NOVA on this issue which is why many people would like to plan ahead for the growth that is sure to come.

  • I commute from the eastern suburbs into the city, and traffic on Pantops is simply not that bad. Yes, it’s traffic, and I’d rather not be sitting in it. However, my tax dollars are better spent somewhere else.

    We certainly do not want to be like NOVA on this issue which is why many people would like to plan ahead for the growth that is sure to come.

    Unfortunately, there’s a catch-22 here. If you build more roads, if you build this eastern connector .. more people will come and fill up that space on the road. I know there’s an industry term for this, but I can’t find it.

    Bottom line though, by making the eastern suburbs easier to commute to/from, you increase the benefit of businesses to build out there, for homebuilders to build out there, and bang .. you have more traffic filling up your new lanes you just spent millions building.

    If rush hour isn’t an hour long, it’s not a rush hour. The traffic situation simply doesn’t need millions upon millions thrown at it, expanding roads, etc. What is needed is smart growth and urban planning. The area east of 250/I-64 is largely still farmland and forest. I’m sure that is going to change.

    Start figuring out how to build communities where people don’t need to commute into the city every day, or have more efficient means of doing so (bike trails, light rail, better bus service). If you keep giving people more road, you eliminate their incentive to find alternate means of transportation.

  • You are absolutely right about doing more than building roads. Perhaps I should have said we need a regional transportation network that includes all methods.

    I think this is one of those topics where it’s really hard to convince either side who is right or wrong simply because it’s basically a matter of opinion. This “debate” is similar to one that people around here have about winter weather. Those from the northern states typically laugh at our reaction to “snow storms” and proclaim that winter is nothing here because “back home it snows [insert insane amount of snow here] all the time.” Let’s take this little analogy even further. Let’s say you have a former resident of Florida and a former resident of upstate New York who have just moved here from their respective hometowns. One December day the temperature doesn’t go above 40 degrees. The Floridian thinks that it is unbelievably cold for a high temperature while the New Yorker doesn’t think its that cold at all. Who is right and who is wrong? These type of things are largely based on perceptions, opinions, and expectations.

    For many native residents their perceptions, opinions, and expectations on the issue of traffic are largely based on what they remember from the not so distant past. It was only in 1990 when Albemarle’s population was less than 70K. Today its population exceeds 90,000 people. At that same time Fluvanna had a population of a little over 12,000. Today it tops 25K. Greene was home to a little over 10,000 residents in 1990 but today its population is just shy of 18,000. Back in 1990 both Louisa and Orange barely had populations over 20K but today they have both topped 30,000. If you aren’t counting that’s a net growth of over 60,000 people across the region without including places like Buckingham, Madison, and Augusta/Staunton/Waynesboro. Do you think that a proportional amount of growth has taken place in the area of transportation? You see there is no right or wrong answer to this question. It’s basically a matter of what some see as change to their home and what others have accepted as a part of life.

  • I drive to Richmond to work and live in C-ville. The drive sucks but it is worth it, because C-ville is a great place to live, but Richmond pays the most $$$$$. I only have five more years left of it until I can retire. I can’t wait to see Richmond in the rear view for the last time. I drive a ’93 Toyota with 260K on it and it is still going strong (synthetic oil is the key). I do all my own maintenance, and it gets 40 MPH. So, the costs are low, just two hours a day on the road, but it is worth it for the schools and the quality of life.

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