WASHINGTON – On the days that she doesn’t telecommute, Sharon Cook said it takes her more than an hour to get from her home in Boonsboro to work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.
And Cook has it good compared to some “extreme” commuters in the state.
The Census Bureau said Wednesday that an estimated 3.2 percent of Maryland workers 16 years and over faced an extreme commute of at least 90 minutes to get to work in 2003.
The bureau calculated extreme commuting rates for the 10 states with the longest average commutes in 2003, and said Maryland trailed only New York and New Jersey, where 4.3 and 4.0 percent of workers faced commutes of 90 minutes or more.
The bureau also said that Baltimore tied New York City for the highest percentage of workers with extreme commutes — at 5.6 percent — in a ranking of cities with 250,000 residents or more that have the highest average commuting times.
In Prince George’s County, 3.8 percent of workers had extreme commutes in 2003, while Montgomery County had 2.2 percent, according to the estimates released Wednesday.
The bureau also said Maryland had the second-longest average commute in the nation in 2003, at 30.2 minutes. That trailed the average New York commute that year by 12 seconds, according to the bureau’s American Community Survey.
“We’ve been focusing on building highways, and that has resulted in people living farther and farther away from their work place,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, a nonprofit organization promoting smart growth.
Commuters face “additional daycare costs, wear and tear on cars, are not effective or productive as employees after a 90-minute commute,” Schmidt-Perkins said.
A Prince George’s County official said one strategy to cut commuting times is to add more higher-paying jobs in the county, where a large number of professionals and government employees live. Jim Keary, a spokesman for County Executive Jack Johnson, said the county is also looking to better mass transit and development around Metro stations to help with the problem.
“Prince George’s County is a wonderful place to live, but sometimes the jobs are elsewhere,” Keary said.
Laura Olsen, assistant director of the Washington-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, agreed that a lack of jobs contributes to long commutes for Prince George’s residents.
“It’s the scattering of jobs far from the Metro stations that is worsening the commute for everyone in the region,” Olsen said.
And the lack of affordable housing near workplaces, particularly for workers in Montgomery County, adds to the problem, Olsen said. It’s important “to make sure housing is affordable in places near their work,” she said.
But living near work is not always an option: Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s congressional district begins on the outer edges of Montgomery County, for example. Bartlett usually leaves his Frederick dairy farm around 6:30 a.m. to get to Capitol Hill by 9 a.m., either driving or carpooling with a staff member, said Lisa Wright, his press secretary.
“It’s awful,” Wright said. “If he doesn’t leave Capitol Hill by 4, he says, ‘I might as well stay until 6.’ It’s just so hard to get back home and it takes so long.”
Cook, an administrative officer at NIST, avoids the “painful” traffic and congestion of her 60-mile commute at least once a week by working out of the Hagerstown Telework Center.
Arranging doctor and dentist appointments for herself and her two children is much more convenient on telecommuting days, she said, because she only has to take an hour off work, instead of an entire day’s leave. And there are other benefits.
“I’m able to fix a nice dinner that evening, sometimes get to take a walk when I get home,” Cook said.
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