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The daily commute: Ride to work has gotten longer, more difficult

Hall Countians' journey to work longer than US, state averages

POSTED: January 24, 2010 12:59 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Melissa Edge, director of alumni relations at Brenau University, commutes to Gainesville from Lawrenceville each day.

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The American work force and its chosen mode of getting to the job isn’t what it was 50 years ago.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 65 million workers in the United States in 1960, compared to more than 156 million today.

Back then, only 14.5 percent of workers commuted outside their county of residence. But by the 2000 census, that number had grown to 26.7 percent.

Sal Werner is one of those workers who has chosen to seek employment outside her area of residence.

"I have commuted from Gainesville to Atlanta for over 20 years. I actually retired from a large company. I then took a few months off and scouted around Gainesville for employment only to determine the salaries and benefits were half of that in Atlanta," Werner said. "Of course, this depends on what company you work for."

Werner isn’t the only Hall County resident that commutes to the metro Atlanta area for work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, about 6 percent of Hall residents head to a job in the big city each day.

Fifty years ago, the average commute time in the United States was 22.4 minutes; today the average is 25.5 minutes, with those rates even higher in Georgia and Hall County. The average commute time in Georgia is 27 minutes; in Hall, the average is 27.7 minutes.

The way people are getting to work has also changed over the years. In the 1960s, 10.4 percent of workers walked to their place of employment.
Today, that number has dipped to 2.8 percent nationwide, and less than 1 percent in Hall.

The overwhelming majority of workers drive to work — no surprise to most workers caught in rush-hour traffic.

"I drive from Gainesville/Oakwood to (metro Atlanta) every work day and often from (the Metro) to the city and Decatur. It’s an exhausting experience," Et Gentin said. "At best, the one-hour-plus each way gets old quickly. But with accidents, rain, or unusual clogging sometimes I sit in my car and ask ‘Why has God punished me.’"

Other commuters share Gentin’s misery.

Debbie Oliver drives 106 miles five days a week from Clermont to Atlanta.

"It is most definitely a stressful drive on bad weather days," said Oliver.

"If everyone would drive at least the speed limit, it would not be so bad, but you have commuters that want to drive in the fast lane at 50 to 60 mph, which makes it a little frustrating."

Some commuters have turned to carpooling as a way of relieving the burden of daily commutes. In Hall County alone, 18 percent of commuters ride in a car pool.

"I travel from Gainesville to Atlanta every day, 52 miles one way," Charles Eidson said. "I have been carpooling for five years with a person in Flowery Branch. I love the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes and I hope the HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes don’t happen."

High occupancy vehicle lanes allow vehicles with at least two passengers to bypass traffic by taking advantage of a less congested lane for carpoolers. Use of the lanes are currently free, but the Georgia Department of Transportation is considering turning a portion of the lanes into toll lanes. The conversion would allow vehicles with at least three occupants to continue using the lane for free, while charging a fee to solo drivers.

One nonprofit organization, The Clean Air Campaign, is encouraging more Georgians to do their part to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion by carpooling. As a way to encourage it, the group offers incentives to participants and also helps interested parties link up with other commuters who are interested in sharing a ride to work.

"Last year, nearly 50 percent of The Clean Air Campaign’s Hall County commuters were commuting all the way to the city of Atlanta. Alpharetta was the second most popular destination," said Sarah Waters, campaign associate.

"As of Jan. 20, Hall County commuters who are registered with The Clean Air Campaign have kept over 3.3 million pounds of pollution out of the air by clean commuting. They have also saved over $1.65 million collectively by ditching their solo drives to work."

Currently, around 179 Hall residents are registered with the campaign, while 46 commuters to the area are recognized participants.

During the spike in gasoline prices in 2008, the campaign’s Hall County participation peaked at 306 Hall residents and 108 commuters into the county, staff say.

"We certainly saw that $4-a-gallon gas got people looking for alternatives to driving alone," Waters said.

No matter the price of fuel or the sacrifices that are made, American workers are dedicated to doing what they have to in order to get to work.

"I get a kick out of people here in town stating what a horrible commute it is and that they’d never drive to Atlanta. I have heard all the horror stories. Well folks, if you want a good job, if you need a good job, you’ll go there," Werner said.

"(Residents should) not be afraid to commute if they are lucky enough to obtain a good job. There are easy and other alternatives than driving by yourself or incurring the expense yourself."



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