- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Commuters grinding away on Lakeland Drive in Flowood or U.S. 49 in Gulfport or Goodman Road in Southaven may not believe it, but they’re spending less time than most people nationwide getting to work.

Census data from 2013 shows average time spent traveling to work in all of those regions is less than nationwide.

Although the average commuter nationwide spends 25.8 minutes on their work journey, those numbers are 23.4 minutes for the Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula metro area, 24 minutes for the Jackson area, and 24.1 minutes for the Memphis, Tennessee, area, which includes parts of Mississippi.

Those are the only parts of the Magnolia State included among the 195 metropolitan areas that are analyzed.

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DRIVING SOLO

If you want to find a place where people are likely to commute by driving their own car alone, the Jackson area is a pretty good bet. Of the region’s 246,000 commuters, about 86 percent drive to work alone. That’s the 14th highest share among the regions that were examined, and is well above the 81 percent of commuters in the mid-range urban region who drive alone. The Memphis area, at 84 percent, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast region, at 83 percent, also have more solo drivers than the mid-range area.

Some people have companions along for the ride. About 9 percent of commuters carpool in the Jackson area, while about 10 percent carpool in Memphis and on the Mississippi coast. Those shares are roughly in line with metro areas nationwide.

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NOT ON THE BUS

The flip side of having many solo drivers is that few people in Mississippi’s urban regions use public transit. Only a tiny 0.4 percent ride the bus to work in Jackson, the 16th smallest share among the 195 metro areas. About 1.1 percent of commuters ride the bus on the coast, as well as in the Memphis area, close to the middle among urban areas.

The number of Mississippians riding the bus is held down by the limited number of fixed bus routes available. In the Jackson area, there’s no fixed-route bus service outside the city. There are also no fixed-route buses in the Mississippi portion of the Memphis area, or in most of Jackson County on the Coast.

Transit commutes are typically longer than solo car commutes, but that’s not true on the coast, where the average bus ride to work takes about 23 minutes. That’s the 10th shortest transit commute nationwide and comparable to driving. But transit commutes in Jackson, at 40 minutes, are roughly comparable to what’s typical among all metro areas. And at 53 minutes in Memphis, the bus ride is longer than is typical among urban areas.

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WILL COMMUTES STAY SHORT?

U.S. officials warn that congestion will worsen over the next three decades as the nation’s population rises. Mississippi has expanded some highways to improve traffic flow and is currently building the I-269 bypass through DeSoto and Marshall counties, a project that’s already pushing development farther south and east from Memphis. But that $668 million project is one of the largest currently going on in the state. In the Jackson area, officials are widening Interstate 55 from Interstate 20 south to Byram at a cost of nearly $100 million, but construction has been delayed because of design problems. The Legislature also set aside $10 million to widen part of Lakeland Drive in Rankin County.

Some other projects are stalled for lack of money, like the U.S. 82 bypass around Greenville. One phase has been partially built, but state officials need more than $100 million to complete it to Leland. Officials have often pointed to U.S. 49 between Jackson and the coast as needing major improvement, but no plan or price tag has been adopted.

The pace of improvements has been hurt by declining federal funding, as well as a shortfall in state funding. Transportation Department leaders say the state needs at least $400 million more per year to properly maintain the roads and bridges it has, not counting money for expansion. An earlier push to increase funding fizzled, although the Mississippi Economic Council is studying proposals that are likely to be presented after this year’s state elections.

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