The longest trip: 68 miles in 2 hours--on a good day

October 07, 1990|By Doug Birch

Mark A. Randolph, it must be noted, is a born optimist.

Every weekday at precisely 5:55 a.m., he leaves his modest ranch home north of Bel Air, climbs into his 1984 Toyota station wagon, tunes in to the radio traffic report, opens road maps on the seat beside him and prepares to make the series of split-second connections needed to arrive at his job in Georgetown by 8 a.m.

Nimbly switching from car to commuter train, train to subway, and subway to bus, Mr. Randolph dodges bottlenecks, backups and breakdowns during his 68-mile journey through one of the nation's most heavily traveled corridors.

"Every step along the way must be perfectly timed and synchronized," said Mr. Randolph, who is a science policy analyst for the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. Otherwise, he said, missed connections can stretch the journey to over four hours one way.

While people who spend two hours getting to work are not rare in larger metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and New York, Mr. Randolph seems to have few peers in the Baltimore region. He traveled farther to work -- and used more modes of transportation -- than any of the 187 other people who also telephoned in a recent Sundial survey of area commuters.

Why does Mr. Randolph do it?

"I took a job in Washington three years ago, and we just procrastinated about moving," he said. Housing prices in the Washington area have also discouraged any thoughts of relocating there. Besides, he added, his family -- himself, his wife and 2 1/2 -year-old daughter -- has friends in Bel Air, "an excellent place to live."

"My wife's not happy about my commute," he added. "But she doesn't work at this time. It's more important that she and my daughter have a stable environment."

On the first leg of his journey, Mr. Randolph usually takes Interstate 95 through the Harbor Tunnel to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, where he gets off at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport exit and parks in the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) lot.

But the key to survival, he said, is flexibility and resourcefulness.

In his briefcase, he said, he always carries his Baltimore and Washington maps and Amtrak, MARC and long-distance and local bus schedules.

"I have various routes to get to and from" the airport, he said. "I catch all the traffic reports because I cannot stand to sit in traffic . . . I always keep my maps open and listen. I'll take the route of least resistance."

He shifts from I-95 to U.S. 40, if necessary; cuts through Baltimore or uses the Beltway if there are backups at both tunnels; takes the Francis Scott Key Bridge if that's the best route, and generally keeps his options open. "The parkway is the worst because it has not been expanded to three lanes yet to the airport," he said.

If all goes well, Mr. Randolph catches the 6:48 a.m. MARC train from BWI Airport, arriving in Union Station at 7:25 a.m. There, he catches the Washington Metrorail Red Line toward downtown, switches to the Orange and Blue lines and arrives at Foggy Bottom shortly before the academy's 7:45 a.m. shuttle bus leaves. If he misses the shuttle, he takes a later city bus. The journey through Georgetown takes about 10 minutes.

Every afternoon at 4:10, Mr. Randolph catches a bus to Foggy Bottom and begins the reverse journey, arriving most days at his front doorabout 6:15 p.m. -- just in time for dinner.

The MARC train, where he can read or work on his portable computer, is the most comfortable part of his journey. "I love it," he said. "I think Baltimore has got to expand it tremendously."

He estimated that the commuting costs $225 per month, not counting wear and tear on his car and scars on his psyche.

Mr. Randolph avoids the worst of the traffic by racing ahead of rushhour and following a few simple rules.

"I never take the harbor tunnels on a Friday night," he said. "I always take the Key Bridge. And I never travel at all on a Friday before a long weekend because I'll never be able to get up I-95."

When the commute is too daunting, Mr. Randolph can connect his computer with the academy's by phone and work from Bel Air. But that seldom happens. Unlike most Baltimoreans, Mr. Randolph, a Maine native, harbors no fears of the white stuff. "Only on one occasion have I stayed at home because it snowed," he said.

Mr. Randolph, who grew up in a rural area and seldom traveled except by car, has become a self-described "mass transit advocate."

"Living in the city, I have come to rely so heavily on public transit that now I realize it is more important to me to be less stressed when I get there now than how fast I get there," he said.

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