As commutes go, Fort Wayne’s aren’t bad, at least by the numbers.
The estimated average travel time to work in the local metropolitan area was 21.1 minutes in 2013, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau records by The Associated Press. The average travel time for all U.S. metro areas with at least 100,000 residents was just shy of 26 minutes.
Federal officials define Fort Wayne’s metropolitan area as Allen, Whitley and Wells counties.
The commute for the local metro area, which counts about 167,000 drivers who are older than 16 and don’t work at home, is comparable to travel times in cities with similar numbers of such motorists. Commutes in the five metro areas most like Fort Wayne ranged from 20.2 minutes in Corpus Christi, Texas, to 27.2 minutes in Manchester-Nashua, New Hampshire.
Commuters in three of those areas – Provo-Orem, Utah; Shreveport-Bossier, Louisiana; and Springfield, Missouri – got to work or school in between 21 minutes and 22.2 minutes.
A spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Fort Wayne District, which stretches across 17 counties in northeast Indiana, said it is no accident that the local metro area is less congested than the average urban region. INDOT in recent years has widened Illinois Road/Indiana 14 on the southwest side of the city and Lima Road/Indiana 3 on the northwest side, installed a "diverging diamond" at Dupont Road/Indiana 1 and Interstate 69 on the northeast side and introduced flashing yellow arrows to left-turn signals at some intersections.
"They really have served their purpose in making it a quicker commute from one side of Fort Wayne to the other. That’s what they were designed to do," said Nichole Hacha-Thomas, media relations director for INDOT’s Fort Wayne District.
Hacha-Thomas said she knows about the improvements firsthand. The diverging diamond on Dupont has cut 10 minutes off her frequent east-west drives across the north side of town.
"That was a hugely congested area," she said about the I-69 overpass near Parkview Regional Medical Center. "The addition of (the diverging diamond) has made it so much easier to flow through there."
Traffic along heavily commercial Dupont used to back up as long lines of vehicles waited to make 90-degree turns onto I-69 ramps. In a first for Hoosier motorists, state traffic engineers rerouted travel lanes on the I-69 overpass so that drivers crisscross the bridge in both directions – moving from the right side of the road to the left side and back to the right again, with exit ramps veering off the left lanes.
"The traffic pattern is definitely different than anything people have seen," Hacha-Thomas said. "But once they get through it, they appreciate the ease of mobility – being able to just kind of whisk right through there to the other side" of the overpass.
Hacha-Thomas said that although INDOT tries to look five or 10 years out when designing or expanding roads, it is impossible to predict how one part of a city or another is going to grow in population and vehicular traffic.
"Can we determine what’s going to be the next Aboite? No, certainly not. Those things just kind of creep up on you," she said about the suburban boom in southwest Fort Wayne’s Aboite Township.
"Congestion is always an issue no matter where you’re going," Hacha-Thomas said. "There’s just a lot of people here, and sometimes there’s only one or two ways to get somewhere."
Fort Wayne is unlikely to face a huge increase in traffic volume in coming years. The metro area’s population of 427,261 is expected to grow by 12,400 people by 2020, a 2.9 percent rise. Among those metro areas with similar traffic volume, Provo’s population growth is projected at 9.2 percent and Corpus Christi’s at 5.1 percent.
Compared with those areas, Fort Wayne commuters cover more ground in roughly the same time. They traveled more than 10 million miles in 2013, the most in any of the five cities and more than twice as many miles as driven by Manchester motorists.
Interstate highways run through Corpus Christi, Provo and Shreveport, while Manchester and Springfield more resemble Fort Wayne, with interstates or major highways on the cities’ outskirts.
The average public transit commute took 40.9 minutes in Fort Wayne in 2013 – a lot slower than Corpus Christi’s 31 minutes but much faster than Springfield’s 71 minutes.
The margin of error for overall commute times varied from 0.7 minutes in Fort Wayne to 1 minute in Manchester-Nashua.
Fort Wayne’s 21.1-minute average commute was roughly the same as times for its closest neighbors with at least 100,000 residents, according to AP’s analysis. Toledo clocked in at 20.5 minutes; Kalamazoo, Michigan, at 21.1 minutes; South Bend at 21.8 minutes; and Indianapolis – by far the most populous of the bunch – at 24.4 minutes.