Journal and Courier Article- Commute times longer for residents who leave the county

Journal & Courier - Lafayette, Ind.



August 4, 2012


Commute times longer for residents who leave the county


By Hayleigh Colombo


Colleen Taylor is armed with distractions when she leaves her home in Americus each weekday at 6:30 a.m.


Her fondness for a job at the" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 440 union in Indianapolis — along with a healthy supply of music, audiobooks, breakfast food and, especially, the coffee she buys each morning from Morrison’s Gas Station — for five years have helped her endure the twice daily 75-mile daily commute.


“There are days when it’d be nice to have a 10-minute drive, but I don’t really mind,” Taylor said. “I always tell people that it ramps me up for the day, and on the way home, I decompress and unwind. It’s a nice transition.”" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Trucker: commuter mentality is 'gotta go'


Taylor is a super commuter — part of the community of self-described road warriors who decide, for one reason or another, to take to Interstate 65 and other highways, or even board a plane, each day — instead of moving closer to work.


“It’s its own little culture,” said Liam Digman of Lafayette, whose commute to work in Indianapolis takes more than an hour. “You don’t really wave or anything, but you just know a lot of people are in the same boat as you. People do this for their entire careers.”



The percentage of people who left" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Tippecanoe County to go to work spiked to 6.6 percent of the total workforce in 2008, according to" alt="" title="" target="_blank">tax return data compiled by the Indiana Business Research Center.


In recent years, that number has dropped to 4.9 percent, where it stood in 2004.


The economic recovery might be driving fewer people to attempt the super-commuting lifestyle, but those who say they are used to it are anything but a dying breed.


Average commuting times for Tippecanoe County residents who work out of the county have increased about 20 percent over the past 10 years, according to the tax return data. Most of the increase has been to destinations at least an hour away.


And the number of commuters leaving Tippecanoe County for other states has increased 46 percent over that time frame.


Lynetta Raplee of Lafayette commutes each week to Pasadena, Calif. She said her long commute has been a good networking tool.


“I’ve made several contacts from people that just happen to be sitting by you,” Raplee said. “If you drove a car into work every day, you wouldn’t have that.”


Commuters said there is a silent strength in their community — even if the most interaction they ever get is seeing the same cars on the road each day.


“You get to recognize those people who always pass you up, or the people who are trying to get high gas mileage,” Digman said. “You see that the person in the red car must be running late today.”


But there’s also strain.


“You’re driving more miles every day,” said Andrew McGee, manager of" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Commuter Connect, a division of the" alt="" title="" target="_blank">Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority.


“It is beyond gas. It is wear and tear on your vehicle, oil changes and new tires.”


McGee has seen an increase in the number of long-distance commuters who carpool to cut down on such expenses.


Drivers who spend several hours in the car each day are constantly facing — or seeking — distractions, and that can have consequences, Indiana State Police Sgt. Chad Dick said.


“People get distracted by their cellphone — that’s no hidden secret. And people don’t have a chance to eat, so they’re trying to eat,” Dick said. “Any of the little distractions that take place within the vehicle lead to a good potential there will be a crash.”


Traffic accidents tend to peak around 6 p.m., said ISP Sgt. Matt Mischler.


“Everyone is getting off work, so generally that’s when you have an influx of traffic,” Mischler said. “Distracted driving more than anything (causes accidents). They’re not paying attention. I’ve stopped people who are putting makeup on.”


Family time, etc.


Long commutes can result in communication breakdowns in relationships or cause people to get less family interaction than they might want, said Buck Black, a licensed clinical social worker with Heartland Clinic in Lafayette.


“If someone is commuting for a couple of hours or more in a day, then that drastically cuts into the time for the family or for the relationship,” Black said.


“It’s so important that people spend time together throughout the week. A trap so many people fall into is they only text or email. So much is lost in the written word.”


So what else drives the super commuters to keep their long hauls to work when gas prices are about $2 per gallon higher than they were 10 years ago and family time is limited?


A few common threads emerge: There’s the seller’s disadvantage in the housing market, stronger feelings of job insecurity, and not wanting to uproot children from school.


“At a time when the economy is very soft, people are much more willing” to undertake long commutes, said Siim Soot, who before retiring studied commuting patterns in Indiana and the Chicago suburbs in his role as executive director of" alt="" title="" target="_blank">University of Illinois-Chicago’s Urban Transportation Center.


“Some people want to ride out the downturn in the housing market. For some, the smart decision is to wait it out and endure some of these longer commutes.”


And simply, some said they just like it better here.


“I’m pretty rooted in Lafayette,” Taylor said.


“I like Indianapolis, but our family and friends are here. If I didn’t like my job, I wouldn’t make the commute.”