Editorial: Longer commutes a way of life for Nutmeggers
Updated 12:57 pm, Monday, September 25, 2017
It is not just in our highway-weary minds that commuting to work seems to take longer these days. The U.S. Census Bureau recently confirmed what we already know.
In Connecticut, the average commuting time is 25.4 minutes, with Fairfield County clocking the longest commute at 28.2 minutes. Litchfield County commutes are slightly better at 26.5 minutes, but not as short as New Haven County with an average of 24 minutes.
There’s not much comfort in knowing that it takes commuters in New York and New Jersey even longer — by 6 or 7 minutes — than Nutmeggers to get to their jobs.
What has increased dramatically in our state is the number of people who need an hour or more to get to work. More than 15 percent of the commuters in Fairfield County spend an hour or longer — more than triple the 4.1 percent of a decade ago and well above the national average of only 6.3 percent.
The latest statistics tell the what, but not the why.
The reasons for longer commutes could be myriad. Where jobs are located certainly is a factor, and in Fairfield County a sizable number of workers head to New York City every weekday. As the state pulled out of the Great Recession, people might have had to find jobs farther from home.
Whatever the socioeconomic factors, one indisputable fact is that Connecticut’s clogged highways contribute to some longer commuting times.
Some highways, such as I-84, are well over capacity for the volume of traffic they were built to handle decades ago. Getting on Interstate 95, the Merritt or Wilbur Cross parkways around morning or evening rush hours? Plan on adding substantial time for the traffic crawl.
Local roads are not ideal, either. A Connecticut Conference of Municipalities report last year found that 73 percent of the 17,365 miles of local roads in the state are in poor-to-mediocre condition. Add in that 25 percent of the state’s 4,225 bridges and culverts are structurally deficient or obsolete and it’s a wonder anyone dares to drive anymore.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy understands the urgency of fixing the state’s infrastructure and envisioned $100 billion in transportation improvements over a decade. But the state’s fiscal crisis has made it difficult for the political parties to commit to large outlays.
We are extremely vexed by a proposal Democrats snuck into their budget recently — electronic tolls — to pay for transportation improvements. Although there was not enough support in the regular General Assembly session to go down the toll route, the Democrats unbelievably included the creation of a new agency — the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority — that would have the power to establish tolls on state highways without legislative approval. The Democratic budget could not gain enough votes.
Remedies for reducing commuting times, aside from fixing the state’s clogged highways, should include improved public transit — especially Metro-North — and the encouragement of carpooling. Or more could follow New Haven’s example where the number of people riding bicycles to work went from 2.5 percent to 4.1 percent last year.
That’s peddling a fresh approach.