If you think you’re spending a long time getting to and from work, you can take comfort in knowing you have plenty of company.
According to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, 6.3 percent of Fairfield County commuters spend at least 90 minutes a day just getting to work. This compares with the United States rate of 2.8 percent. To put it another way, when you look at 100 cars crawl by on Interstate 95 in Fairfield County, six of those drivers are spending about a month of every year just getting to work and back again.
The Census also says that a full 9.4 percent of commuters in Fairfield County spend between 1 and 11/2 hours getting to work every day. This compares with 6.3 percent for commuters nationwide.
Long story short: More than 15 percent of commuters in Fairfield County are spending an hour or more getting to work, and another hour or more going home.
The figure has crept upward over the years. A decade ago, in 2006, the percentage of Fairfield County commuters with a 11/2-hour-plus trip to work was 4.1 percent, and the figure for the 1 to 11/2-hour range was 8.3 percent.
Get to work
Commuters statewide spend an average of 25.4 minutes getting to work, but there are states with longer commute times. New Jersey and New York have each-way commutes of 31 and 32 minutes, respectively, and Maryland leads the way with an average commute time of 32.3 minutes – the result of thousands of workers heading into Washington, D.C.
In fact, the average commute time in the U.S., according to the Census, is a little higher than Connecticut’s average – 25.9 minutes – and there are 19 states with greater average commuting times than seen in our state. Some of these might surprise you, like West Virginia, Georgia and Puerto Rico.
But it’s possible that we could be seeing the crest of the wave. Urban planners and others who track trends say younger workers are choosing lifestyles that don’t include cars.
“It may come as a surprise to people over 60 that to a person in their 20s, the car is not nearly an important a possession as it was for older generations,” said Jay Habansky, the town planner for Stratford, which is pushing forward with so-called Transit-Oriented Developments, or TODs. “The car has been replaced by the smartphone.”
TODs are high-density apartment or condominium projects that are built within easy walking and biking distance to railroad stations. Whereas traditional apartment building might require two or more parking spaces per unit, TODs relax that requirement considerably.
Planners like them because they downplay cars, which require valuable urban space – not only where they’re parked at night, but also at places of employment and at stores and supermarkets.
“You’re starting to see younger folks locate in areas with lots of job, or moving to places where they can hop on public transportation,” Habansky said. “A lot of people are willing to live without a car – we’re seeing a shift in mentality. But are we seeing a peak in commuting times now? I don’t know.”
The case for widening
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said early this year said that he was an advocate of adding another lane in each direction to I-95, a massive project that would cost $100 billion or more.
“I believe that I-95 needs to be enlarged by a lane throughout its entire direction,” Malloy said in February. “So where it’s three lanes it needs to be four, and … where it’s two it needs to enlarged to three, for the reasonable flow of traffic, which … is a gigantic impediment to job growth in our state.”
I-95 carries between 130,000 and 155,000 vehicles every day in the stretch between Greenwich and New Haven. Despite the countless hours spent behind the wheel on that expressway, most politicians seemed skeptical of Malloy’s idea. Still, the state Bond Commission in February allocated $1 million to develop a strategy for adding lanes to I-95.
“The big problem is the lack of affordable housing,” said Jim Cameron, Hearst Connecticut Media’s commuter columnist and founder of the Commuter Action Group. “This is what forces longer commutes. A lot of the ridership increases on Metro-North are because of the traffic we’re seeing on I-95, despite relatively cheap gasoline.”
Others, Cameron said, endure long commutes to live in better school districts.