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Dave Dildine, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - The days of easy summer commuting are over.
The rush hours following Labor Day are notorious for featuring a resurgence of highway volume as kids go back to school and summer vacations draw to a close.
While many Washingtonians have come to expect the onslaught of heavy traffic, many insist that delays are worse now than ever before.
"Traffic in September - it happens every year. The pattern is predictable, but the degree has increased over the years," says WTOP Traffic reporter Bob Marbourg.
Although there is little doubt that highway volumes have increased throughout the metro area over time, Marbourg explains there are several elements that contribute to the perception of a worsening of traffic congestion.
"Over the summer people may change where they live, their workplace may move and so often they are coming from new directions on new routes, and it does take some getting used to," he says.
Data compiled for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments bear this out.
The average daily delay per traveler dropped by 18 percent between June 2011 and July 2011 (25.1 minutes to 20.6 minutes). In September 2011, the average daily delay per traveler shot up nearly 27 percent between August and September (20.4 minutes to 25.8 minutes).
Obviously, many people in the Washington area have much longer commutes that can stretch into hours.
The report breaks down a wide range of travel issues, including where the worst traffic occurs.
In addition to societal shifts, Marbourg also indicates that delays in autumn form due to environmental changes.
"In the fall, if you live west of your workplace, you're driving into the sunshine on your way to work and heading into the sunset on your way home," he says.
"With the sun lower on the horizon, it's going to be squarely in your eyes and in the eyes of the driver ahead of you."
WTOP Traffic reporter Bob Immler frequently witnesses an overlap between waning rush hour volumes and newly generated congestion caused by overnight construction.
"We have all the work zones out there on the Beltway in Maryland and Virginia and this too is making it seem worse than in past years," Immler says.
WTOP Traffic Director Jim Battagliese says that the worst is yet to come.
"The reality is summer's over. We're back to our normal winter driving patterns," he says.
And this means having to adjust to the night sky.
"Just wait until the end of daylight saving time when we'll be driving home in the dark," Battagliese says.
"It's going to get really bad because for that first week, people have to readjust to driving with their headlights on."
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