Jobs, quest for a quiet life among reasons for Texans with long commutes

Posted Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Commuting flows

Here are the top county-to-county commutes by the number of workers:

1. Kings County, N.Y., to New York County -- 391,008

2. Queens County, N.Y., to New York County -- 370,243

3. Bronx County, N.Y., to New York County -- 191,620

4. Los Angeles County to Orange County, Calif. -- 181,744

5. Orange County to Los Angeles County -- 178,681

6. Fort Bend County to Harris County -- 154,557

7. Tarrant County to Dallas County -- 142,514

8. Collin County to Dallas County -- 142,042

9. DuPage County, Ill., to Cook County, Ill. -- 139,477

10. Prince George County, Md., to Washington, D.C. -- 136,219

Source: U. S. Census Bureau

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For road warriors like Carla Savage and Elaine Brent, living the quiet country life is worth driving 60 miles or more to work.

Savage leaves home at 5:30 a.m. and drives an hour and 20 minutes from Gibtown in Jack County to her job as an executive secretary in the Tarrant County facilities management department in Fort Worth.

"It's the trade-off for living in the country. I wouldn't have it any other way. I grew up in Chicago. I was happy to get somewhere where there's some peace and quiet," she said.

Brent leaves at 5 a.m. for her 65-mile commute from Gordon in Palo Pinto County to her job as a registered nurse working in cardiac rehab at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

"You can go 75 mph out here. I can do it in an hour," she said. "I don't mind it at all. The drive is really pretty."

They're not alone: 8.1 percent of U.S. workers commute 60 minutes or longer, and nearly 600,000, or about 1 in 122 full-time workers, have "megacommutes" of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles, according to the 2006-10 American Community Survey released last week by the Census Bureau.

Since 1993, Jerry Easley, a supervisory program analyst for the Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, has commuted 60 miles from Lipan in Hood County.

For her, it's purely a practical matter.

"There are no jobs in Lipan," she said with a laugh.

Commuting might be in her DNA: Easley's father drove from Lipan to Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth for 28 years.

"You get used to it," she said. "It's my quiet time. But I do hate the traffic going home."

Savage and Brent often break up the daily grind by staying overnight in Fort Worth with relatives.

"The price of gas is what keeps me from always going back home," Savage said.

Brent, who moved from Arlington four months ago, has another edge. She works three 12-hour shifts a week.

"Once you get out here, it's so peaceful. In Arlington, I was always fighting Cowboys and Rangers traffic," she said. "My husband is the lucky one. He's retired."

In Texas, 754,458 workers, or 7 percent, have commutes of 60 minutes or longer.

New York has the highest rate of long commutes, at 16.2 percent, followed by Maryland and New Jersey, at 14.8 and 14.6 percent.

By comparison, 13.4 percent of all workers have commutes of less than 10 minutes, 15.5 percent have 15- to 19-minute commutes, and 14.8 percent travel 20 to 24 minutes.

More than a fourth of all U.S. workers travel to another county to work.

The Dallas dynamic

The seventh-largest county-to-county flow in the U.S. is made up of the 142,514 workers who commute from Tarrant County to Dallas County.

Going the opposite direction are 61,507 workers who live in Dallas County and work in Tarrant.

Broc Sears, a lecturer in the journalism department at TCU, has been driving an hour or more each way from far east Dallas to Fort Worth since 1986.

His morning alarm is timed to radio traffic reports.

"One of the things I've learned is that the traffic reports are usually wrong. And trying to take side streets doesn't save you much time unless you have a major shutdown," Sears said.

Houston and Dallas are work magnets for surrounding counties.

The flow from Collin County to Dallas County (142,042 workers) ranks No. 8. In Denton County, 108,740 workers, or 33.7 percent of the workforce, commute to Dallas County.

Nationally, the highest percentage of worker flows from county to county is in Fort Bend County, where 60.2 percent of the employees commute to Harris County.

Nearly 40 percent of workers in Montgomery County also travel to Harris.

In Central Texas, 46.2 percent of workers in Williamson County commute to Travis County.

Cross-border commute

Commuting patterns shift with labor markets, and nowhere was that more evident than in Cooke County along the Red River.

In 2000, only 63 Cooke County workers commuted to Love County, Okla.

But after the Chickasaw Nation built the massive WinStar World Casino in 2004, Texas workers started heading north.

In 2010, 812 of the 17,761 employees in Cooke County worked in Love County, a 1,189 percent increase.

All told, 126,741 Texans work in other states, according to the report.

Louisiana (18,977 workers), Oklahoma (13,030), New Mexico (11,500) and Arkansas (7,061) were the top destinations.

They were followed by California (5,005) and Tennessee (3,790).

But the real supercommuters in the Lone Star State are the 379 workers who go to Hawaii. Passing them in the air are 47 Hawaiians who travel to Texas for work.

Sears said he's learned to be flexible.

"You can't get upset," he said, noting that he just builds in an extra half-hour if he has an important appointment.

To pass those thousands of hours in the commuting lane, he's done "everything a person can legally do in a car."

"I probably should know German, French and Chinese by now."

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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