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“If you think your commute’s going to be a half-hour and it ends up being an hour, it’s more likely to create stress and depletion of mental and time resources,” Mr. Johnson said.

Transportation consultant and author Alan Pisarski has been studying commuting in America since the mid-1980s, and he believes that stress stemming from commuting has decreased significantly.

Since 2000, the average commute time for Americans has barely changed from 25.5 minutes. Mr. Pisarski also notes that technology in the information age has made the average commuter feel less isolated.

“Though we’re not supposed to use it, the fact remains that the cellphone permits people to be much less anxious when they’re driving, and that connectedness that we have really helps reduce the stress,” Mr. Pisarski said.

While people facing regular deadlines or have Type A personalities often suffer more from lengthy commutes, Ms. Hughes said, some groups react positively to the time consumed in getting to and from work.

“Some mothers said they actually liked commuting. They saw it as their private time of the day where they could do what they wanted,” Ms. Hughes said.

The researchers all agree that the issue of commuting — and its corrosive impact on American democracy — defies easy answers. The solution is not as simple as advocating that workers live closer to their places of employment. An individual’s work location often is too expensive or is in an undesirable place of permanent residence.

“The fact is that people have a bunch of other things that they value and very often the commute is what falls out of the bottom of the calculus,” Mr. Pisarski said.

He also notes that two-thirds of households in America have multiple workers, so what is convenient for one family member may be inconvenient for another. One cure for crowded roads is not likely to be endorsed by many politicians.

“Unfortunately, commuting is often indirectly solved by unemployment,” Mr. Pisarski said.