PHOTO: I-95 congestion (copy)

Traffic congestion on southbound Interstate-95 in Stafford County.

A study of the Fredericksburg region’s workforce shows a growing number of residents drive out of the area for jobs—and most of them drive alone.

All told, 42 percent of the area’s workforce commutes outside the region. Ten percent spend at least three hours a day driving to and from work.

The study found the region’s workforce has grown along with the population in recent years, but “that the number of area residents commuting from the region is growing more rapidly than the increase in the labor force.”

Curry Roberts, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance at the University of Mary Washington, said the initial reaction is to think the commute is growing worse. But he warned against that assumption.

“It’s tricky to take a broad brush approach and say the commute’s gotten worse” because data covering a longer period is needed to get a more comprehensive take, he said. He wants to get data back to the 1990s, when the area’s population started a drastic spike upwards.

He added that more study is needed to get a better grasp on trends.

The study is the second conducted by the University of Mary Washington, the alliance and the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The first study used various data sources, including the 2011–13 American Community Survey and was released in 2016. The new study used 2013-17 data from the ACS and the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau. The study also used 2019 information from other sources, including the George Washington Regional Commission, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

Roberts highlighted the new study’s improvement over the first report, because it includes Census data, which helped narrow down “where [commuters)] are actually going to work, not where they’re getting paid from.”

The second study also included military personnel, something the first report did not have.

In 2013, the workforce stood at 177,400. It grew to 196,776 in 2017, the most recent Census data used for the study. There also were 133,000 more jobs in the region in 2017.

Figures from the first quarter of this year showed more than 216,800 workers in the region.

The data also show the growing percentage of commuters leaving the region.

Between 2013 and the first quarter this year, the percentage of commuters leaving the region for work increased from 37 to 42.

The top destinations outside the region are Washington, D.C., and the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Arlington and Henrico.

Caroline had the fewest commuters, but the highest percentage leaving the region at 61 percent.

Stafford has the most commuters at more than 97,600, with just more than half leaving the region for work. Spotsylvania followed with more than 81,200 workers, just more than half of which commute outside the region.

Only Fredericksburg has more workers coming than going, with 57 percent of its workers commuting into the city.

When accounting for commuters leaving and coming to the region, the study found the Fredericksburg area “exports” more than 45,000 workers on a regular basis.

There appears to be a clear reason why workers are willing to commute: more money.

The study found that those who commute out of the region earn a median annual salary of $80,000, while the median pay of those who remain in the region is $50,000.

The study found that the average commute for the region’s workers was 38.2 minutes. Yet, in 2018 an estimated 46,000 had a one-way commute of at least an hour.

A growing number of the region’s workers are considered “super commuters,” whose one-way trips amount to at least an hour and a half.

As a whole, 10.3 percent of the region’s workers were super commuters in 2017, up from 9.5 percent in 2009.

King George had the biggest increase in super commuters during that time, followed by Fredericksburg and Stafford.

The study also looked at modes of transportation used by commuters and found that most drivers go it alone.

According to 2018 figures, more than 143,400 drove alone; 23,701 carpooled; 5,747 took public transportation; 9,467 worked at home; 2,765 walked; 2,099 used “other means.”

An unexpected discovery by the study found that “wealthiest workers were the ones most likely to carpool.”

The highest-paid workers also were most likely to use public transportation, with trains being by far the most popular.

Lance Gentry, with the Center for Business Research at the University of Mary Washington, will give a presentation of the study at the George Washington Regional Commission’s meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at 406 Princess Anne St.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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