Limiting the misery
January 12, 2006 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I need advice on where to live in Northern Virginia--one of us will be commuting to Prince William county and the other will be headed into D.C.. How can we split the difference to minimize the traffic pain.

Let me first point out that I lived in Alexandria, Va until I was 18, so I'm familiar with the area and major towns. A lot has changed in the past ten years, though, including the traffic patterns.

The plan is that I'll be heading toward Quantico and my boyfriend will be on his way to a yet-undecided-on location in D.C. I have no problem with the drive South, but would like to minimize the amount of my life I waste in traffic if possible. He is less fond of driving, and would really rather take the VRE or the Metro. He can drive if he has too, but he's never lived anywhere as congested as the Metro area--so it will probably take some adjustment time.

We'd also like to not be screwed on rent if possible. A $1000/month is fine but the thought of $2000 a month make me feel ill. We can afford it if we need to in order to make the commute more liveable. The plan is to rent for a few years, so we can always bail and move somewhere else if the first location doesn't work out.

So--what city should we choose? I scouted around a bit when I was in the area and some of the better choices for me seem to be Manassas, Dale City, or Woodbridge. That puts him pretty far out of reach of a subway station, though. Any other suggestions?
posted by divka to Travel & Transportation around Virginia (10 answers total)
How about Vienna? Last stop on the Orange Line. It's a very decent town, and is also hard by Route 66, the Dulles Toll Road, and other avenues into and out of DC (Route 123, etc). The W&OD bike path runs right through town if that's your thing.

Other than that, if Metro access is a must then your options are rather limited.
posted by killdevil at 3:34 PM on January 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, Manassas has developed in a less than aesthetically-pleasing way, so keep that in mind. I'm less familiar with the other two options you mentioned.
posted by killdevil at 3:36 PM on January 12, 2006

I have a relative who takes the VRE to the District every morning from Manassas and it works great. I think you can take it from Woodbridge, too, IIRC. In your situation, that's what I'd do.

Vienna's nice, but it's on the 66, which sucks, and it's nowhere near Quantico, so you'd both have crappy commutes.

FWIW, I now live in Southern California and I'd rather drive back and forth on the 405 all day long every day than try to get from Vienna to DC on the 66 ever.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:44 PM on January 12, 2006

The Lorton area might work in Fairfax County might work. There's a VRE station and getting to Quantico and back might not be too bad most days. Lorton's growing up fast though, ever since they started turning the former prison into houses, schools, and parks. When I was looking for a place to live, I think you could get a moderate sized townhome for $1100-$1500 depending on the exact size and what not.

I'm talking about the area south of Ft. Belvoir, between route 1 and route 123, mostly. The Burke/Springfield area might be worth looking at, there's VRE and Metro stops around, but it's kind of out of the way to Quantico.

There's also a VRE station in Prince William County along route 1 just inside PW. And VRE does go to, or close to, Manassas as well (the other line). VRE's website, of course, has the exact locations. I'm a big fan of the whole south eastern area of Fairfax (Mt. Vernon, Woodlawn, Belle View, Huntington). The rents have gone up lately though and traffic is getting worses, Lorton might be a good fit if he wants to be closer to DC than PW. Of course, the military is moving about 18,000 jobs to Ft. Belvoir over the next X years so extended Metro is a possibility as well as widen roads.

Vienna is a nice place, but pretty far from Quantico and the orange line of the Metro is pretty busy.

(As an ending note, remember that in Virginia, and even more so in NoVA, most land is just part of a county. Not a city and not a town. There are, of course, cities which are not part of or inside a county (like but not limited to Dale City, Fairfax City, Alexandria, Manassas and Manassas Park) and towns, which are inside counties (like Herndon, Vienna, and Clifton), but most "place names" are just conventional names that refer to a general area (like Springfield, Lorton, Burke, Burke Station, Reston, Kingstown, Huntington, and so on)).
posted by skynxnex at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2006

I should've mentioned: I lived in NOVA and DC for many years.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2006

I lived in NOVA/DC for many years. If I were you, I'd live somewhere near the springfield metro. My friends have purchased townhomes there for not too expensive, and I think the rent's pretty cheap, too. Definately a one bedroom for $1000, maybe even a two bedroom. You can take 95 and he can take the Springfield metro. Springfield is of course suburban hell, and you'll have to deal with the mixing bowl; but you've pretty much committed to suburban hell, and they're fixing up the mixing bowl, so maybe it's not that bad. Don't live on 66 unless you plan to car pool; it's HOV only during rush, and the fine is $500.
posted by bananafish at 4:19 PM on January 12, 2006

I grew up in Fairfax Station and I used to commute into Crystal City on VRE. It was pretty reliable and much less stressful than driving.

I'd recommend someplace near the Lorton or Woodbridge VRE station. Prince William County was cheaper than Fairfax County when I lived there, so Woodbridge may be cheaper. (If kids are or may be in the picture, Fairfax County has better schools.)

Also, there's a VRE station in Quantico, so you might be able to both take the trains.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:24 PM on January 12, 2006

I grew up in, uh, Dumfries, in a suburban community called Montclair that's recently got it's own zip code. I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for, but it's one of the nicer spots in the area, with Dale City and Woodbridge less nice. It's about 10 minutes from Quantico. Lake Ridge is close by (borders Dale City) and is pretty nice as well. But that whole area is becoming a horrible expansion of Potomac Mills, the largest outlet mall in the world or some crap. I'm sorry to say that NOVA is pretty boring any way you cut it, but the Fairfax, Vienna area is more cultured than the Potomac Mills area. As a rule, expect less going on (and more strip malls) the further south you go down 95 from DC.

I'd say Fairfax/Vienna is decent location wise - Quantico is farther away, but you won't have to deal with the horrible commute to DC. It has become quite a wealthy area though, one of the wealthiest in the country, actually, so I'm not sure how that will work for you $wise. Also, your boyfriend can take the Metro from there, whereas if you lived off the 95S stretch, the Metro stops at Springfield, so anything south of that will put him at the mercy of the unreliable VRE (I think it stops running at 7:30pm). The whole area desperately needs a public transport fix.

Good luck and feel free to email me with any questions.
posted by hellbient at 4:41 PM on January 12, 2006

"Vienna is a nice place, but pretty far from Quantico and the orange line of the Metro is pretty busy."

Stupid busy. I work in Dunn Loring and the traffic here and surrounding areas is stupifying.

I live in Arlington and it's pretty quick to get to D.C. and my friend who lived in Manassas says it wasn't that bad - and relatively speaking the cost of living isn't as insane as I've seen in other areas. And there's a lot of good public transport too.

I also don't drive (but I'm a really great passenger) so my opinions are relative :)
posted by heartquake at 5:25 PM on January 12, 2006

Caveat: I live in Richmond, and have avoided moving to NoVa like a cat avoids water. All thoughts herein are based on observation, conversation, and the experience of friends/family, and may be utter and complete crap.

I think you have a quality-of-life dilemma on your hands. The good news is that somewhere between Springfield and Dale City, there exists the Golden Mean of commuting for you and your boyfriend, the place that will have you both commuting about the same amount with the same amount of hassle. The bad news, is that you're going to be living between Springfield and Dale City! And hellbeint is right, the further south on 95 you go, the worse NoVa becomes.

If I were you (and dear god, let mr. junkbox never get a job offer in NoVa that we cannot refuse), I would try to habitate inside the beltway (Alexandria, Arlington, Shirlington) and suck up the longer drive south. Hell, maybe you could buy a piece of crap car, and find a way to leave it in Springfield. Take the yellow line down to Springfield, and drive your Pinto down to Quantico. Leave Pinto in Springfield and take the Metro home. This may be a naive belief, that one can commute from Alexandria to Quantico and remain sane, but perhaps it can be done. I can't say for sure.

I realize that your commute is a huge quality-of-life issue in NoVa (my husband saw very little of his father growing up, because he left the house at 4:45am to drive all the way in from Warrenton to Ft. Belvoir), but your neighborhood can be just as important. I don't know if it's worth it to you to make your commute (boyfriend's will be simple) more difficult in order to have a better neighborhood with diverse restaurants and shops close by, but I'd think about it hard before jumping to locate on the I95 corridor.
posted by junkbox at 8:27 AM on January 13, 2006

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