Three-hour commute a daily chore for thousands in Ellis County

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Public data shows a rise in commute times for a growing number of Ellis County workers.

If you’ve been thinking that traffic in and around Ellis County has gotten bad, you’re not just imagining it. New research shows that as many as 2,500 Ellis County residents are spending three hours or more every day in their commute to and from work — totalling more than 15 hours per week of unpaid time that’s dedicated to their jobs.

According to census data analysis by the online apartment rental platform Apartment List, about 3.1 percent of Ellis County commuters, or 2,500 drivers, are so-called super commuters who travel 90 minutes or more to work every day, only to have to repeat their trek afterward to get back home.

Chris Salviati is the housing economist for Apartment List whose task is to process data for the apartment rental industry, and he says the number of super commuters in Ellis County has risen since 2010 when these long-distance drivers numbered around 1,350.

Sign showing way to Waco and Dallas.
Distance to work and traffic congestion are creating longer drive times for Ellis County commuters.

“So, from 2010, to 2019, the number of super commuters grew in Ellis County by 82%, which is really, really rapid growth,” Chris says. “That’s compared to 45 percent nationally, and so the growth in super commuters in Ellis county is actually outpacing the national average by decent bit.”

Super commuters in Ellis County face two likely culprits for their long drives: long distances to reach higher paying jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; and traffic congestion both in town and along the interstates and highways due to explosive population growth in Waxahachie, Midlothian, Red Oak and Ennis.

Chris says the jobs of super commuters span from construction workers who may have to travel to temporary worksites far from home, to high-paid professionals who spend a major part of their time idle in traffic even if their destination is close by.

“We do see that super commuters tend to be higher paid than the average for their area. And I think that’s one of the reasons that folks may be willing to accept these really long commutes,” Chris says. “If you’re working a minimum-wage job, then maybe a there’s not really much motivation to be spending three hours a day commuting.”

Despite employers’ growing acceptance of workers clocking in online from home, the data suggests that a hybrid remote work arrangement, where workers work mainly from home but travel to their office frequently to check in, could create a new class of part-time super commuters. The fastest rent growth in large metropolitan areas has been occurring further into the suburbs and exurbs, which suggests that workers entering a remote work arrangement may feel more comfortable with excessively long drives to the office if they can work from home for part of their schedule.

Chris says there about 84,000 super commuters throughout the Dallas region, and Henderson County leads the trend with as much a 7% of its workforce heading out each day for a three-hour round trip to work.

Generally, the trend is problematic: long commutes can affect the health of drivers by adding stress to their lives and cutting into time available for recreation. These commutes also consume natural resources and result in extra air emissions that add to the regions’ poor air quality issues.

“These are folks that are really having the bulk of their leisure, non-working hours occupied with commuting. That takes a significant human toll on the individuals who are making these commutes. It also has a significant environmental assault when you have all these folks that are spending that much time in the car,” Chris says.

One reason workers choose longer commutes over having more leisure time is to escape high housing costs in the economic cores of the region, Chris says. Part of the solution to the super commuter problem is therefore more affordable housing closer to where people work, not just on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Better public transportation could also alleviate the time wasted getting to and from work for many.

“Broadly speaking, when we want to talk about solutions, I think really what this is pointing to is that we really need to make sure that we’re prioritizing sufficient new housing supply in areas that are growing and adding jobs and to build that housing around transit infrastructure that is optimized for getting folks to to the places where the jobs are in an efficient manner,” Chris says.

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