Yes, your commute is getting worse.
The Omaha area has more workers than ever, and increasingly they’re driving to work alone.
With all those extra cars — and an expanding metro area — it’s little wonder that commuting in your car is taking longer.
The Census Bureau’s latest estimate shows that Douglas County’s average travel time to work has risen to 19.3 minutes. That’s up from 18.6 minutes in the time span from 2008 to 2012.
Get ready to say goodbye to the “20-minute city.”
Omaha promoters have long treasured that title as a measure of a city with limited traffic troubles. But while Omaha’s commutes are nothing like the tie-ups in Texas or California, the local trends continue to reflect a city that loves its cars. In all, the Census Bureau estimates that Douglas and Sarpy Counties have 59,000 more commuters who take a car to work compared with 10 years ago.
The vast majority drive alone. Even carpooling is getting less popular. And the share of people using alternative forms of transportation — public transit, walking, biking or rides of some other form — is essentially unchanged, dropping from 4.1 percent of the commuting population to 4 percent.
As growth continues to push west in Omaha and into Sarpy County, planners forecast that the Interstate system, the West Dodge Expressway and Highway 370 all will attract a significant amount of additional traffic, said Mike Helgerson, transportation and data manager for the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency.
To help cope, planners with MAPA and the Nebraska Department of Transportation are working on a major improvement plan to shape Omaha’s transportation system for the next 20 to 30 years. The plan, which could be finalized next year, will consider major improvements to Omaha’s Interstates, but also put a major focus on public transit projects.
“There’s certainly a need for really looking at all the options, looking at transit,” Helgerson said.
For now, bus use in Omaha fluctuates largely with the price of gas, said Curt Simon, executive director of Metro transit. Metro’s ridership, he said, has dropped over the past few years.
But Simon said he senses growing interest in the community in making broader transportation improvements in Omaha.
One change in the works is Metro’s ORBT, which promises to run a rapid transit system on sleek buses between Westroads Mall and downtown Omaha. It is due to debut in 2020.
“I do see a shift in thinking,” Simon said. “What it takes to get a single occupant out of their car, I don’t know.”
According to the survey results, 96 percent of commuters (excluding people who work at home) take a car to work. The percentage of commuters driving alone is up in the five-year results, standing at 87 percent; the share of carpoolers is down, to about 9 percent.
Only about 1 percent of commuters in Douglas and Sarpy Counties use public transit. Roughly twice as many people walk to work. And though more people are biking to work, it’s done by just two-tenths of 1 percent of all commuters — about 800 people, according to the estimates.
Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer, board chair for Mode Shift Omaha, a community group that advocates for transportation options, said the situation reflects Omaha’s priority on spending to promote an infrastructure for cars, not pedestrians, bicyclists or people using public transit.
“It doesn’t surprise me we haven’t seen great strides,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with where we put the money.”