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WTOP's Bob Marbourg: Few options for 'fall crush' of traffic

Friday - 10/14/2011, 4:39am  ET

Nathan Hager, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The days are getting shorter, but our commutes are getting longer.

What is it about this time of year that makes traffic in the Washington region worse than its usual snail's pace?

"During the months of September and the early fall, October, it's sort of like Bolero in reverse," says veteran WTOP traffic reporter (and secret classical music aficionado!) Bob Marbourg.

"It builds, but it slows down the rhythm."

Marbourg says, for as long as he's been watching D.C.-area traffic, the autumnal crush seems to get worse every fall.

That so-called "Terrible Tuesday" - the day after Labor Day, which many consider among the worst traffic days of the year - has nothing on the mid-September/early October period, according to Marbourg.

This time of year, everyone is back at work and school, and holding on to what's left of their vacation time so they can take it during the winter holidays. That's why the heavy volume tends to ease around Thanksgiving.

Also, since sundown arrives sooner, people have less incentive to try to leave work early, so the evening rush hour can last well into the night.

There is also the impact of the way business works in Washington. Businesses may open new office complexes in outlying suburbs like Loudoun, Frederick or Fredericksburg, which may add a new inconvenience for employees who had been used to commuting to the old location. Or the employee's contract with the business or agency might expire, forcing them to adjust their commute.

"We have an awful lot of traffic on a road system which, notwithstanding a few major projects, still does not support the needs," says Marbourg.

Since alternate routes won't magically appear to accommodate this area's growing population, commuters are left with few options to ease the fall crush.

"The only option that many people have is to get up and start commuting earlier in the day, to make their appointments for later in the morning," says Marbourg.

A small comfort for the hundreds of thousands of harried commuters in the Washington area, but Marbourg has this caveat: "All we have to do is remember back to last winter, and then we'll remember that it has been worse."

Did someone say "commute from hell?"

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)