Any Prince William resident who commutes to Washington every day has no doubt the trip is among the most difficult in the country. Now, a national business publisher argues it’s also among the most expensive. 

A Bloomberg study of U.S. Census data found residents of Maryland’s Charles County, on average, spent 388 hours traveling to and from work in 2017, making it first in the nation in a ranking of the “economic cost of commuting.”

To put that into context, that’s almost two-and-a-half weeks lost to commuting in a single year. 

Residents of Fauquier and area communities more than 35 miles outside of D.C. spent a similar amount of time on their commutes, placing Fauquier second on the list. Prince William ranked sixth.

How does Bloomberg calculate the “cost of commuting?” It used a variety of factors to find an “opportunity cost” based on average earnings and commuting hours. The number of workers leaving before 6 a.m. – considered a special hardship – was also factored in. From that, Bloomberg awarded scores based on dollar amounts and the percent of income residents lose to their daily commutes.

Counties in Virginia and Maryland ranked higher than other stereotypically high-priced regions, such as San Francisco and New York City. This is due in no small part to the effects of sprawl we feel so keenly here in Northern Virginia.

The trend of urbanites migrating to the suburbs and exurbs is nothing new; it began in the latter half of the 20th century. According to the Brookings Institution, that trend had been somewhat “on hold” after the Great Recession. Census data now shows suburbanization is back on the rise.

Statistically, it makes for an interesting comparison, particularly with Metro’s Silver Line expansion to Dulles Airport and Amazon’s impending arrival. 

But statistics only tell part of the story. They don’t deal in motivations or the quality-of-life issues behind the long daily treks. 

The benefits our communities offer -- such as open spaces, cheaper housing and good schools -- have always held sway over the decision to tackle a long commute. Were that figured into the cost, the Prince William commute might be considered more affordable, or at least more valuable.

This trend bears watching, as all of these factors influence how our local governments address issues such as re-zonings and money spent on transportation projects and education, just to name a few. All must be considered as county leaders manage the continued influx of commuters (and residents) while preserving the very qualities that draw people to our communities.

It’s time to fix teacher pay

We're glad to see Prince William County Board of Supervisors considering a budget that would fully fund local schools and offer teachers a 7-percent raise over two years — it's about time.

Less encouraging is the current state of affairs in Fauquier, where the supervisors will begin their budget talks with a recommendation from County Administrator Paul McCulla that falls $1.4 million short of fully funding Fauquier Superintendent David Jeck's budget for next school year. 

Jeck's budget offers a necessary remedy for the teacher salary compression problem at the root of the 12-percent teacher turnover rate the county experienced last year. Simply put, that's unsustainable. 

Fauquier schools must reinstate the salary scale and fix pay levels within the teaching ranks to address this problem. 

School division staff estimate it would cost the average taxpayer in Fauquier County about $50 more a year – above the average $45 tax-bill hike already assumed in McCulla’s budget -- to make the school division's budget whole. That's reasonable. We hope the supervisors will agree.

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