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Jennings Sunday: Live here, Work there

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Greg Jones| For The Republic  Traffic is stacked up in both directions of U S 50 at the intersection of S R 7 in North Vernon, as traffic on S R 7 moves through the intersection.
Greg Jones| For The Republic Traffic is stacked up in both directions of U S 50 at the intersection of S R 7 in North Vernon, as traffic on S R 7 moves through the intersection.

Greg Jones| For The Republic  Traffic on S R 7 moves through the intersection of US 50 in North Vernon during the peak evening traffic period.
Greg Jones| For The Republic Traffic on S R 7 moves through the intersection of US 50 in North Vernon during the peak evening traffic period.

PATTI Yount traveled regularly between her family farm near Hayden to her Statehouse office in Indianapolis for eight years.

Often, that was just the first leg of a journey for the former deputy commissioner of the state’s environmental management and workforce development departments. Yount’s duties also required her to travel across the state and to larger cities, such as Chicago.

While her daily road trips to the Statehouse ended almost 10 years ago, the 67-year-old Yount still drives her Buick LaCrosse at least 110 miles daily between her home and her job as office manager at a Jeffersonville engineering company.

Yount isn’t alone among Jennings County residents on regional roadways. Almost half of all workers in Jennings County now drive outside the county to their jobs, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a substantial jump from fewer than 1 out of 10 commuters only 13 years ago.

The federal numbers show 5,875 residents of North Vernon and surrounding communities travel outside the county to earn a living. That’s only 223 fewer than those who both live and work in Jennings County.

Thirteen years ago, 5,353 Jennings County residents drove elsewhere to work. Jennings County Economic Development Director Kathy Ertel says she doesn’t see commuting patterns changing, no matter how many new local jobs are created in the future.

“(Commuting) is something North Vernon has always seen as part of our makeup,” Ertel said. ”We have a lot of people who work at Cummins in Columbus and others who work at Aisin in Jackson County. If they are long established in their career, they have a vested interest in keeping their current job.”

While the census figures also indicate 1,762 people commute to work in Jennings County from surrounding areas, they are outnumbered by local residents working out-of-county by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.

Five times as many people live in Jennings County and commute to the Columbus area than vice-versa. Bartholomew County businesses employ 43.7 percent of all Jennings County commuters, up from 38.8 percent in 2000.

However, Jennings County is not the top exporter of labor to the Columbus area, as 2,721 Jackson County residents work in Bartholomew County, 149 more than Jennings.

Other counties that employ Jennings County residents include Jackson (29.6 percent of all commuters), Jefferson County (5.6), Marion County (4.2) and Decatur County (3.4).

The average one-way commute in Jennings County takes 28 minutes, according to census data. Eighty percent of commuters drive their own car alone, while 15 percent carpool with other commuters.

One key reason why many people choose to commute is financial, according to Kumares Sinha, an Olson distinguished professor of civil engineering at Purdue University. He noted in a March 10 story in The Republic that gasoline prices easily can be offset by much lower living costs in a smaller community.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Tommy Walker noted the increasing number of Jefferson County residents who travel daily through North Vernon to a job in Columbus has added to the local traffic congestion.

Local law enforcement officials agree that, with more people spending more time on the roads, the result too frequently has been more crashes.

A study of accidents from 1975 through 2009 showed Jennings County was noticeably above the Indiana county average in both the number of fatal accidents and traffic deaths.

In addition, a 2011 university study in Sweden linked long commutes to a variety of social and health problems that include obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress and insomnia.

But those revelations don’t seem to discourage Yount, who maintains that traveling allows her to unwind and let the work day go before she reaches home.

“Do you know what the secret is to a happy commute?” Yount asked. “Give me a Bluetooth and satellite radio, and I’m good to go.”

For Yount, her strong family roots and long-established friends are most important to her.

Her boss at the Statehouse, the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon, occasionally asked Yount why she kept commuting between Hayden and Indianapolis.

“Then, one day, he visited my farm and told me, ‘Now I know,’” Yount said. “Both sides of my family are deeply rooted here, going back seven generations. Spencer Township was named after one of my ancestors. My mother and stepfather still reside here. People keep asking why I continue to live in Jennings County. Well, why wouldn’t I?”

But she also relishes the variety of her well-traveled life.

“(Commuting) affords me the ability to have it all, “Yount said. “I can enjoy all the large cities but come home and sleep peacefully. I can sit down on my deck in my pajamas with a glass of wine, and nobody cares.”

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