Commute Times in Every State, Ranked
How much do Americans dislike commuting? After work, child care and household chores, it’s their least favorite activity.
They dislike it so much that nearly a quarter of workers have quit a job because of the travel time involved, according to a survey by consulting firm Robert Half. If a commuter is forced to travel an extra 20 minutes to work, they are as unhappy as if they received a 19 percent reduction in salary, according to another study by the University of the West of England. Commuting negatively affects health and fatigue levels, marital stability and is linked to a greater risk of chronic back and neck pain.
So why do so many Americans engage in such an unhealthy and unpopular activity?
Modern commuting patterns are the result of what Richard Florida, editor of CityLab, a media project examining issues facing modern cities, calls “a new urban crisis.” Affordable housing is often outside the major urban areas where jobs are, and so people must often live a long way from where they work. This disparity has given rise to longer travel times and the phenomenon of “supercommuters” who travel 90 minutes or more each way, often across state lines for work, or even fly from one state to another. The average commute time in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, is 26.9 minutes.
Urban areas usually have better public transit options than rural ones, so city commuters can often use public transit while people in small cities, towns or rural areas are forced to rely on cars. Low gasoline prices may also be encouraging more people to drive more to work alone, causing more congestion. More single cars on the road and an aging national infrastructure mean more traffic congestion and longer commute times.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released state-by-state data on average commuting times. We’ve listed the mean commute times, state by state (including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) and in order from shortest to longest commute times, and we took a look at some of the factors that may influence commute times in different states.
While North Dakota is the most rural state in the country — over 90 percent of its land used for farming — it’s also one of the fastest-growing states due to an oil boom. It also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
While South Dakota is large in size, its low population density (10.7 people per square mile) and a lack of urban areas has meant a lack of jobs. However, the population is growing steadily.
Wyoming has the smallest state population in the country and is the second most sparsely populated state after Alaska. About three times as many commuters travel to Wyoming for work as travel out to neighboring Colorado or Idaho, as the energy boom gives Wyoming a strong economy. The state is the largest producer of coal in the country.
Only two states (Alaska and Wyoming) are more sparsely populated than Montana. The state has only a few urban areas, which are growing rapidly, while rural populations shrink. While Montana may not have much traffic congestion, snowstorms reduce visibility and speed, so commute times in winter are higher.
About one-third of Nebraska residents live in two major cities, Omaha and Lincoln. Omaha has been known as the “20-Minute City” for its relatively short commutes and overall ease of getting around, but those times are rising.
Kansas has plenty of wide-open spaces, and much of the rural population is moving to cities. Kansas has a highway and freeway system that’s relatively large for its population size, meaning there’s less congestion.
Large areas of land in Iowa are used for farming, hence over 60 percent of the population is clustered in urban areas. Iowa residents with the lowest commute times spend a total of 4.6 days each year on the road, half the U.S. national average of nine days.
Alaska is the largest state by area in the country and the least populated, with 1.2 people per square mile. In the Matanuska-Susitna Valley outside of Anchorage — the state’s most densely populated and fastest-growing region — 40 percent of residents head into the city daily for work.
Idaho is one of the most sparsely populated states, with 19 people per square mile. One of the main work commutes is into Boise, and most people drive alone. Numerous bedroom communities with more affordable housing are springing up within a 30- to 45-minute radius of the city, Idaho’s only large urban center.
Arkansas is a middle-ranked state in terms of population density and overall numbers. Half of all commuters in Arkansas are headed for the city of Little Rock, with 83 percent of them alone in their cars. Only 0.4 percent use public transit.
Oklahoma has a relatively low population density, with an average of 55 people per square mile. However, residents aren’t spread evenly across the state: 65 percent of them live in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas.
Utah is lightly populated overall, but it has the fourth-fastest growing population of any state in the country and the average commute time is rising. About 80 percent of the state’s residents are clustered around Salt Lake City, and vast spaces in the state are uninhabited.
Roughly 80 percent of drivers in Wisconsin’s smaller cities drive to work alone. However, in Milwaukee, this rate drops to 71 percent, In Madison it’s 65 percent. More people in Wisconsin’s larger urban areas use public transit or walk.
While New Mexico is the fifth largest in the U.S. by size, it’s the sixth most lightly populated state, although the population is growing steadily. A majority of roads in the state are unpaved, and New Mexico in the country.
Vermont has the second-smallest population in the U.S. after Wyoming and doesn’t have any major urban areas. The largest city, Burlington, has just over 42,000 people. The average commute time in Burlington is lower than the national average and only 52.3 percent of people drive alone in a car.
While Kentucky is fairly densely populated, at about 110 people per square mile, the population remains stable year to year. It’s divided roughly in half between urban and rural dwellers. Kentucky is another state where about 80 percent of people drive alone to work. Only 3 percent take public transit.
Ohio is one of the most densely populated states in the country, yet its growth rate is one of the lowest. The state’s largest city, Columbus, has an average commute time shorter than the national average, and 80 percent of people who drive do so by themselves.
Indianapolis, the state’s largest city, has an average commuting time lower than the U.S. average, and over 80 percent drive alone to work. Only 1.1 percent of the state’s population commutes on public transit. For the last 20 years, the state’s population growth almost exclusively centered on Indianapolis.
Missouri’s rural population is greater than most other states, with about a third of its residents living outside cities. St. Louis, the state’s largest city, has an average commuting time of 24.1 minutes, shorter than the national average.
About 60 percent of Minnesota’s population is based in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The average commute time in Minneapolis is 22.9 minutes. Overall, the city has a relatively high usage of public transit (13.4 percent) and relatively fewer single-car drivers (61 percent).
Maine has one of the slowest population growth rates in the country; it’s expected to start dropping after 2020. Many people travel to Maine’s largest city, Portland, for work, with an average commuting time of 19.1 minutes. A small number of supercommuters go back and forth to Boston.
Only a small percentage of Nevada’s population lives in the state’s vast rural areas. Everyone mostly lives in or around the state’s two major cities, Las Vegas and Reno. With population increasing rapidly, Las Vegas is one of the top 20 fastest growing cities in the U.S., so commuting times are likely to get longer. Right now, it takes solo drivers in Vegas 22.8 minutes to get to work.
Portland, Oregon’s largest city is the single largest destination for commuters, meaning that their travel times (as well as traffic congestion) are the worst in the state. Commuters who drive alone in the Portland area take 24.1 minutes to get to work.
Oregon’s population has risen about 12 percent in the past ten years, which has affected the commute times across the state.
The travelers with the longest commuting time are those in the Detroit metro area, with an average of 26.6 minutes. Up to half of commuters in more rural areas and smaller cities in Michigan have times of under ten minutes.
Workers in Charleston, South Carolina’s largest city, have the longest commuting times in the state, particularly in the summer when tourists flood this destination.
Alabama’s the most car-reliant state in the entire country: only 0.4 percent of the population uses public transit (which is mostly bus networks) and commute times are getting longer.
North Carolina is moving from a rural state to being urban. The city of Charlotte has the longest commute times in the state and its population is growing rapidly. Three major urban areas have a population higher than 1.6 million: Metrolina (Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury), The Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) and The Triad (Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point).
Mississippi’s average commute time is less than the U.S. average, and 85 percent of commuters drive alone in a car. Only 0.3 percent use public transit. Why? Mississippi is still largely a rural state, with 51.2 percent of people living outside urban areas.
Half of working residents in Middle Tennessee, which is home to Nashville, cross a county line to get to work every day. Still, even in the most congested cities in the state, the average commute time is 34 minutes, and in the least busy cities, the drive to work takes an average of 18.5 minutes.å
The smallest state in the U.S. in terms of land size, Rhode Island is the second most dense in population. The single largest number of working residents (21.3 percent) are in Providence, the state’s largest city, while 80,000 Rhode Island residents travel out of state for work, with most traveling to neighboring states Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Louisiana has low rates of public transit usage, meaning most people in the state drive cars. Commuters face slightly less time getting to work than the national average.
Most of Arizona’s population is urban, centered around Phoenix and Tucson, the state’s largest cities. Both cities are growing rapidly — there’s even speculation the cities will merge by 2040 — so Arizona commuters are facing traffic congestion and longer commute times in the near future.
Colorado commuters face longer commutes and increasing traffic congestion, in order to find affordable homes. One of the state’s most traveled commutes is from Denver to the smaller city of Boulder. The downtown-to-downtown distance is 27.5 miles, but it can take about an hour to drive.
Residents of West Virginia have a slightly lower commuting time than the national average, with 82 percent driving alone in their cars, while just under 10 percent share rides or carpool. Many West Virginia commuters travel to the Washington, D.C. metro area for work.
Homes in the state are spread out, so carpooling is often difficult, although just under 9 percent of residents did so, according to the most recently available stats (2013). Close to 80 percent (2013) of residents who commute to work by car do so alone.
Texas is the second-largest state in the country, with the second-largest population, and it contains three of the most populous cities in the U.S. About 80 percent of Texas drivers commute to work alone.
Despite Delaware’s small size (2,500 square miles) and a population below one million, commute time is higher than larger states. Roughly 40,000 Delaware workers commute over an hour to work every day, with many going as far afield as New York City and the Washington, D.C. metro area, putting them firmly in the supercommuter category.
While over a third of car commuters still drive alone to work, car-pooling and public transit usage are higher in Hawaii than the U.S. national average. In addition, as many as 9 percent of people work from home.
While Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, is often ranked in the top ten cities in the country for walkability and bike-commuting, enough supercommuters live in the state and travel to places like New York City or Washington, D.C., to boost the state’s overall commuting time
One of the reasons for New Hampshire’s longer commuting time relative to its population is due to residents traveling to Boston for work: over 80,000 of them do so. Only the Maryland/District of Columbia border has more people crossing it than the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border. Mortgage site HSH.com even recommended New Hampshire as the best place to live if you work in Boston but don’t want to live there.
Florida has the country’s third-largest state population, which may help explain its relatively high commute times. In addition, cities such as Miami experienced a rise of nearly 30 percent in supercommuters. Ironically, Florida’s longest commute is in the small Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, where drivers must circumvent 400 miles of canals.
While the number of long commutes (and supercommuters) is rising in Seattle, Washington’s largest city, the number of short commutes is dropping. This may indicate that people are moving further out to buy affordable homes.
The small U.S. island territory has one of the worst commute times in the country. Most jobs cluster in San Juan, the main city. Roads tend to be narrow and twisting, with potholes and traffic congestion, and the island is known for its car-culture despite a system of (inefficient) island-wide minibuses.
While Virginia’s population is growing, fewer people are driving to work alone, and they are traveling fewer miles. However, Virginia commuters are also spending more time driving, which indicates that road congestion is worsening. The proximity of the state’s northern reaches to Washington D.C. also boosts the commute-time numbers.
Atlanta’s the fourth most congested city in the U.S. (after Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco), and it has the eighth-worst city traffic in the world. Plans to improve highway interchanges and underpasses may help alleviate traffic snarls.
Most of the state’s population is concentrated in and around Chicago, the largest city in the state. While about 70 percent of those who drive to work do so alone, this number is dropping; in fact, car commuting overall is lower as people find new ways to get to work.
Massachusetts’s commuters prefer to drive: 80 percent use a car to get to work. Solo drivers in the Boston area take an average 28.6 minutes to get to work. People who take the subway take 43.6 minutes.
California has the largest population of any state and 21 percent of workers are supercommuters. Los Angeles, of course, is notorious for its traffic; the areas in and around the City of Angels rank among the worst for commuting in the nation.
Washington, D.C. isn’t a state, but a federal district (District of Columbia), a city and the nation’s capital all in one. The District has one of the highest national commute times, perhaps because so many people use public transport: the D.C. Metro is the second busiest metro transit system in the country.
New Jersey is the most densely populated state, with most people living near New York City and Philadelphia, as well as on the eastern Jersey Shore. It may be these big-city commuters who raise the collective state travel time. Ninety percent of state residents live in urban areas, which may also affect commuting.
Maryland is one of the most densely populated states in the country, despite being one of the smallest in size. One reason is the state’s proximity to Washington, D.C, the nation’s capital, as the federal government is one of the region’s largest employers.
New York has the fourth largest population in the country and New York City contains 43 percent of the state’s total population. New York state also has the longest commute times. This may be partly explained by the 600,000 supercommuting residents of New York City.