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Should drive time trump all else?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 8, 2012 06:48 AM

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In a traffic clogged state like Massachusetts, where getting to work can be a daily endurance test, maybe drive time should be the top factor when house hunting.

Our beloved Bay State is practically tops when it comes to the amount of time people spend in their cars and on trains and buses going to and from work, according to a new survey by Suffolk University's Beacon Hill Institute.

Right now, the median commute in Massachusetts is 27.6 minutes - meaning it takes more than a half hour for half the state's commuters to get to work in the morning, notes Jonathan Haughton, a Suffolk professor and a senior economist at the Beacon Hill Institute. (The drive time numbers are pulled from a larger survey BHI does ranking the business environment of states across the country.)

And when you factor in all the folks working out of home offices or the lucky few who live around the corner from the office, well the numbers start to look even more miserable for the average Mass commuter.

"It means there are a fair number of people who are taking an hour to get to work," Haughton notes.

So where do we rank?

Top honors for the most miserable commute goes to Maryland, where it takes the average commuter 31.8 minutes each day to get to work. Commuters in New York, Illinois (Chicago) and New Jersey also all have it worse, but that's it.

By contrast, in the fine state of North Dakota the median commute is just over 16 minutes - though where folks are commuting to out there beats me. That's the best in the country.

If you don't want to spend 10 hours or more on the road each week then you need to find those commuter sweet spots scattered across Greater Boston. (I define GB as from I-495 in.)

Of course, it all depends on money. If you have the bucks to buy into a Newton or a Wellesley or even a Needham, you can get the best of both worlds. You can hop on the commuter rail and be in town in a half hour, or you can jump on the Turnpike - not perfect but less miserable than 128.

Natick and Framingham are the next stops - the drive and train time increases a bit, but it's a bargain compared to, say, slogging it in each day from Plymouth.

There are also little commuting sweet spots to the north and south of Boston as well.

Quincy is one of my favorites - home prices, after getting out of hand during the bubble years, have fallen, while the commute, at least if you are working in Boston, is a relative dream. The Red Line, the most reliable of the T lines, can get you downtown in 15 minutes - a North Dakota like commute!

The key to the North and South Shores is the commuter rail - driving can be a tougher proposition than if you live to the west of the city.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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