Insider Tips for Your Alexandria, Virginia, Commute
Famartin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s one of the first questions people ask when researching Alexandria.
“How far away is it from the Pentagon/Fort Belvoir or (fill in the blank here) to Alexandria?”
Alexandria isn’t far from most VA and DC military bases, between 10-15 miles give or take. The real question should be, “How long will it take to get home, and how do I get there?
Ah. See, there’s where the problem lies. Commuting is a big deal in Alexandria. Granted, it is one of the better places in the National Capital Region to commute--that’s why so many people call it home--but there are strategies involved whether you drive, ride, or bike (yes, bike) to work.
As a VERY general baseline, the drive to the Pentagon or Fort Belvoir will be about 20-30 minutes if avoiding peak times. Public transportation to either will put you in the 30-45 minute range without any delays or dense traffic.
If you’ve never been a map person, sorry to say, the time has come to hone your skills. Print out as many as you can and prepare to become familiar with primary colors and directional signs.
Driving from Alexandria
If the car is your preferred choice of transportation, the major source of anxiety that comes with privilege will be parking. Learning to leave home and work at a very specific time for the shortest ride in the car will be your second commute problem to solve.
Depending on your duty station, the parking options will be varied. Driving to Fort Belvoir? You shouldn’t have a problem. You’ll just need to become familiar with gate opening and closing times. The GW Parkway offers a quick ride home to most parts of Alexandria. After a couple of trial and error runs, you’ll fine tune your departure times to take advantage of when the lines in and out of the gates are the shortest.
Image via DoD
The Pentagon presents a larger challenge. Just because you work there doesn’t mean you have a spot waiting for you each day. In fact, many people don’t, and if they do, it could be up to a mile away adding more walking time to the commute. Parking isn’t a simple task, as the spaces are so restricted. Typically, parking assignments are handled by your incoming office.
It’s also not unusual to pay for parking, even at your government office building. Such is the case in nearby Crystal City. Policies on reimbursement vary, so it's vital to check with your incoming office. You can also expect to pay for parking at any of the Metro stations you might use.
Before signing on the dotted line for a home, you’ll want to verify the property’s allotted parking. If there isn’t a driveway, then street or garage parking will be necessary and likely require a residential parking permit and potentially a fee. This is more predominant in the City of Alexandria, than Alexandria, Fairfax County.
It’s also worth noting that Slug Lines (casual carpooling in and around Washington, D.C.) are very common and have in the past operated out of Alexandria, but not recently. It’s a resource to watch as demand changes.
Catching a Ride from Alexandria
Let’s start with good news. The government subsidizes public transportation costs for those who qualify (military, yes--contractors, no) through the Mass Transportation Benefit Program. Employees in the National Capital Region can apply for transit passes in amounts of not more than $265 per month. There are many disqualifiers to this program, so be sure to become familiar with the guidelines.
Now for the bus and train options. Remember, it's always a good idea to use each entity’s app or text capabilities for frequent updates on delays and route changes.
The Virginia Railway Express (VRE)
“The Virginia Railway Express is a commuter rail service that operates Monday through Friday, from the Northern Virginia suburbs to Washington, D.C. We primarily travel northbound in the morning, towards Washington, and southbound during the evening, towards Manassas (along I-66), and Fredericksburg (along I-95).” Alexandria has a station on the VRE. Check the site for maps and more info.
Fairfax County created a bus system to assist commuters of the area. Alexandria riders from Fort Hunt, Kingstowne, Fort Belvoir, and the Mount Vernon Area are particularly well served from these bus routes, which run to important Metro and VRE stops.
The DASH bus system is Alexandria specific and helps commuters get to and from connections between Metro trains and buses, the VRE, and local bus routes.
Metrorail trains and buses move a lot of commuters to and from Alexandria. The official website for maps, schedules, and locations answers many of your questions and will calculate your best commute options between rail and bus.
Metro buses are prolific and have stops all over the city. Many times, their stops are very close to popular neighborhoods like Fort Hunt or in Old Town. Your home’s location is another huge consideration for figuring out your personal commute system, especially if working out of the Pentagon.
More people than you’d think bike to work from Alexandria. It’s very doable, given the bike trail access on the GW Parkway and the ability to load bikes on and off Metro trains and buses.
Two resources to check for designing your route include the City of Alexandria’s Bikeways Network and Bike Washington.
Thomas H Skadow, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
It's easy to see that there are plenty of ways to get to work, not just for the service member, but also for the military spouse who intends to work while living in Alexandria. Coordinating schedules and routes will take a bit of practice, but learning to ride the rails or bus will be second nature in no time!
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