Shutdown casts a long shadow on DC-area traffic patterns

closed-signWashington a ghost town? That’s how John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, sees it. â€œWe are already seeing the impact of the [federal government] shutdown in a way that most lawmakers on Capitol Hill didn’t anticipate, and that is on highways, mass transit lines, and local roads,” Townsend said.

“Overnight, Washington looks like a ghost town.  It’s not just Washington, D.C. proper. The impact is being felt along all points of the compass throughout the Washington metro area, ranging from the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, to Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, to the Mark Center along I-395 in Alexandria,” Townsend said.

Federal workers and contractors or contract workers comprise nearly 13 percent of the workforce in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Yet their absence from the federal workplace is having an outsize impact on commuting patterns in the Washington metro area.

In the wake of the shutdown-driven furloughs, ridership was down 20 to 25 percent aboard Metro during Tuesday morning’s rush hour, compared to a week ago today, figures from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) show.

Motorists are also reporting seeing less traffic volumes in their rearview mirrors on major interstates into and around the District of Columbia, including along the “Inner Loop” and the “Outer Loop” of the Capital Beltway, I-395, I-95 South in northern Virginia.

They can’t help believing that’s also the case along major commuter routes near federal offices and around  military installations in Maryland and Virginia that saw their civilian and contractor workforces burgeoning in the wake of the Pentagon Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)  law.

Express Lanes light 

The 495 Express Lanes, which runs down the middle of the Capital Beltway, reported at the end of the June quarter an average of approximately 34,000 workday trips. As part of the overall network, traffic volume is lighter, as it reportedly is on major roadways throughout the metro area, because of the partial shuttering of the federal government.

The same signs of the times are manifesting themselves along Virginia Route 1, the Fairfax County Parkway, Maryland Route 170, MD 295/Baltimore-Washington Parkway; and roadways near Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, and  the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground, which has more than 21,000 civilian, military and contractor employees, meaning the impact is far and wide.

The chaos caused by the shutdown furlough is no respecter of persons when it comes to the local federal civilian workforce and its impact on area roadways and public transportation systems. The District has a federal civilian workforce of 166,280 employees, Virginia has a total of 147,787 federal employees, and Maryland has 137,025 federal workers for a total of approximately 451,000 local personnel.

Vehicle volume and Metro traffic are down near the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center situated along the 8900 block of Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, Maryland. The facility reports it was required to furlough a number of its civilian and contract employees because of the “lapse in appropriation.”

Traffic volume is reportedly down along stretches of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) at the District line and near Fort George G. Meade, where “more than half of the garrison’s employees” are furloughed and near the National Security Agency (NSA). With more than 29,000 civilian employees,

Fort Meade is located between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore and it is situated five miles east of Interstate 95 and one ­half mile east of the Baltimore­-Washington Parkway. The base is the new home of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Spooks stay home

To their utter surprise, 70 percent of the civilian workforce at the National Security Agency (NSC) in Fort Meade, Maryland has been ordered to stay home during the government shutdown and that translates into less traffic on Maryland 295 because of the sudden absence of thousands of NSA civilians.

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About the Author

Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.