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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes down to drive time, Utah's capital city has often boasted some of the shortest, most pleasurable commutes in the country. Access to the freeways from multiple suburban areas along the Wasatch Front makes it relatively easy to get into town.
However, population growth and other circumstances has started to compromise what most American's used to call "rush hour."
On average, most Utahns who work in the greater Salt Lake area, travel 17 miles or more and spend about $424 each month on associated costs for fuel and repairs, according to Bundle.com, an online business that tracks financial trends in the United States.
"Staying ahead of the congestion curve is something we've tried really hard to accomplish," Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director John Njord said Wednesday.
Staying ahead of the congestion curve is something we've tried really hard to accomplish.
–Utah Department of Transportation Executive Director John Njord
He said UDOT is in a constant mode of tweaking efficiencies to make traffic run more smoothly.
"It's the peak hours that are the real problem here in our state right now," Njord said.
At peak times, the average commute time from Salt Lake to Provo and vice versa, is about 42 minutes. Travel from Ogden to Salt Lake takes about 33 minutes at peak times, according to UDOT data.
Most commuters come from outside the city, where they can live with much cheaper costs, such as lower mortgages and higher availability of other consumer items.
However, the drive time becomes a hassle for some, complicated by weather conditions and traffic congestion along the way.
By the time Lois Heber-Leikam completes her 40-mile, 45-minute, one-way commute from Eagle Mountain to Taylorsville for work, she says, "my day has already started out on a bad note." A shorter drive to a bus station turns out to take even longer; as she could drive to work quicker than the time she'd spend waiting for the bus to show.
Approximately 76 percent of U.S. workers drive their own vehicles to work while 12 percent carpool, 4.7 percent use public transportation, 2.9 percent walk to work, 1.2 percent use other means and 3.3 percent work from home, according to U.S. Census Bureau data and other reports used by Bundle to compile their results.
Salt Lake City's commuters are about average; as Bundle ranks the city as having the 24th-best commute in the nation among 52 U.S. cities.
It isn't the length of the commute or just the costs, but a compilation of the two that Bundle uses to rank the drive times. Palmdale, Calif., however, can boast the shortest commute times, as the majority of workers drive less than six miles to and from work. In Little Rock, Ark., commuters travel an average of more than 25 miles to work, according to Bundle.
Philadelphia commuters spend the least amount of money going to and from work, coupled with the least amount of wear and tear on their vehicles, as the monthly average is around $264. Commuters in several cities in Connecticut spend around $788 per month.
The average costs add up to about $87.2 billion per year in wasted fuel and lost productivity. More than 2.8 billion gallons of fuel is wasted on traveling to and from work and with all the down time spent in transit — roughly 4.2 billion hours — Americans could each take off an extra week of work, according to research by Texas A&M University's Texas Transportation Institute.
Traffic only adds to the time spent on the roads and residents in Los Angeles suffer the most from what Bundle calls "stop-and-go syndrome," with an average of 70 hours in delays each year during peak commute times.
Commuting can take its toll on Americans, and their wallets, but for Heber-Leikam, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
"We now live in a small town, away from the winter inversions," she said, adding that her kids have the capability to run and play, mostly unsupervised. "Everyone watches out for each others kids out here."