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Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2010

Commuting more commonplace in uncertain job climate

April 8, 2010

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Spending 40 minutes in the car each morning and then again each evening might not be optimal, but for Steve Devore it’s a necessary path to success.

“First and foremost, commuting is dependent on your accepting the job that’s best for you,” said Devore, who started Oct. 1 as president of the Gardner Chamber of Commerce. “This is something I was looking for. I wanted to switch industries. This was something I was passionate about and wanted to get involved with.”

The Lawrence resident — who previously had worked even farther away, raising funds for a nonprofit organization in Kansas City, Mo. — is among hundreds of area residents who work some distance from where they live. It’s a reality that continues to gain traction today.

Despite fears of rising fuel prices, people are becoming less wary of taking a job in another community.

A decade ago, about 10,000 Douglas County residents were commuting to jobs outside the county, while more than 6,500 were making their way into the county from elsewhere, according to Transportation 2030, the long-range transportation plan for Lawrence and Douglas County.

While the numbers may change heading into the upcoming U.S. Census, Todd Girdler, senior transportation planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Office, said commuters’ destinations likely won’t.

Many Douglas County residents continue to travel to Topeka for jobs, often in state government, or to Johnson County and elsewhere in the Kansas City metro area for a variety of employment opportunities, he said.

The total number of people commuting may be on the decline — simply because fewer jobs are available these days — but the viability of commuting is becoming increasingly palatable.

“It seems logical,” Girdler said. “People who have lost their jobs would take what they can get at this point, if they have bills to pay.”

Kirsten Krug at first didn’t relish the prospect of adding time to her daily commute. But after interviewing several times for a job in Kansas City, Mo., the Lawrence resident realized she wouldn’t be facing much traffic trouble.

Her drive across Lawrence to Amarr Garage Doors in southeast Lawrence had regularly taken 25 minutes.

Now, as director of human relations for the Kansas City Chiefs, she hits the turnpike at 6:55 a.m. for her 48-mile trek to One Arrowhead Drive. The trip lasts 45 minutes, 50 tops.

She’s leaving downtown Kansas City in the morning, and heading into downtown as afternoon turns to evening — perfect for an uninterrupted drive, something she never would have expected.

Driving across Lawrence even is more stressful than trekking to and from Arrowhead Stadium, she said.

“I’m just shocked,” said Krug, who passes the time by calling family or listening to NPR. “I thought there would be so much traffic.

“Sometimes I don’t do anything: I just drive and enjoy the peace and quiet. Not a bad thing.”

Devore, at the Gardner chamber, also makes passive use of his commute, 31 miles door-to-door. The time allows for a smooth mental transition from his family life into the business world, then back again.

And there’s plenty of business activity to attract commuters from throughout the region: Coleman’s new 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center already is busy with dozens of employees, and plans continue for an intermodal center to transfer goods from trains to trucks.

“Given the economy,” Devore said, “people are willing to travel to find a job, and to accomplish their goals.”

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