"It's great. I come home, I have lunch, watch TV for 30 minutes and go back to work," said Johnson, who now fills the tank of his Jeep once every two weeks. "It's almost like hitting the lottery."
Johnson said that in his experience, the rigors of commuting have more to do with congestion than distance. He said that when he lived in Silver Spring, he and his girlfriend both had 16-mile commutes — his to Washington and hers to Elkridge. Hers took 25 minutes, Johnson said, while his took more than an hour.
Aldona Glemza of Catonsville has had a similar experience. She said that for 18 years she drove 17-18 miles from her home to Towson via the congested west side of the Beltway, with a commute averaging 45 minutes but often exceeding an hour. Now she works in Linthicum and says she averages 13 minutes using back roads.
"This has changed my life," she said. "My stress levels have gone down and I have more time in my day for other things."
At the other end of the spectrum are commuters such as Rafi Guroian, one of more than 100,000 Marylanders with a commute of 90 minutes or more.
Guroian starts his morning by leaving his home in Southeast Baltimore around 6 a.m. He drives 10 minutes to 15 minutes to Penn Station and catches a 6:17 a.m. MARC train to Washington. From Union Station he typically walks a half-hour to his NASA job near L'Enfant Plaza, finding that the Metro doesn't get him there much faster. He usually arrives about 7:30 a.m. In the evening he reverses his steps — taking another 90 minutes out of his day.
But the 32-year-old Guroian, who also finds time to chair the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said the slog pays off.
"The salaries in Washington are in many cases much higher than what you get in the Baltimore area, and the cost of living is so much better [in Baltimore], it's almost a no-brainer," he said.
Guroian accepts that three or four times a year he's likely to run into major MARC delays that will make his commute far more brutal. "I reason that it's no different than if I were living in Columbia and stuck on [Interstate] 95 or [U.S.] 29 because of some accident," he said.
Anirban Basu, chief executive of the Baltimore-based economic consulting firm Sage Policy Group, said there are many reasons for the commuting patterns in Maryland but that they differ around the state.
In the Washington suburbs, he said, the percentage of time-consuming commutes is inflated by the area's high dependence on mass transit, which typically takes longer to make connections. He said it's exacerbated by virtually standstill conditions on several major highways — such as Interstates 495 and 270 — at peak travel times.
In Baltimore, Basu said, development patterns tend to lengthen the time it takes to get to work.
"Commutes have become longer as more people move to the suburbs and a significant number of jobs have remained in the city in government, finance and health care," he said.
Jack Cahalan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said the state is using "every tool in the toolbox" to promote shorter commuting times and ease the longer ones. He pointed to the state's commitment to promoting transit-oriented development, which is intended to cluster employment centers and housing around transit hubs, as a way to let people live closer to where they work.
To ease longer commutes, Cahalan pointed to such projects as construction of the Inter-county Connector — intended to reduce drive times between the Interstate 95 and 270 corridors — and the Express Toll Lanes being added to I-95 outside Baltimore. On the mass transit side, he said, Maryland is moving forward with light rail initiatives such as the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.
Cahalan said the state's commuting times are more than a matter of transportation policy. He said they are affected by land use, planning, personal choices, the proximity of Washington and Maryland's overall prosperity.
"A vibrant economy in a region with wealth places substantial demands on a transportation network. That is, in many ways, a trade-off that we and other regions of the country in a similar situation have to face," Cahalan said.
But Basu said there is a significant downside to Maryland's penchant to drawn-out commuting.
"There is the cost in time away from family and from work, which reduces happiness and productivity," he said.
Those costs are likely to increase over the years, Basu said.
Maryland ranks dead last among states in quick commutes
Relatively few here can get to work in 15 minutes or less
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