Report: Turlock is tops when it comes to low commute times, costs

A report by the Auto Insurance Center says Turlock drivers average $31 per year in commute-related expenditures, the lowest cost in the nation, though the time spent waiting at red lights frustrates some Turlock drivers. Here, Highway 99 crosses over Fulkerth Road in Turlock on Wednesday, July 27, 2016.
A report by the Auto Insurance Center says Turlock drivers average $31 per year in commute-related expenditures, the lowest cost in the nation, though the time spent waiting at red lights frustrates some Turlock drivers. Here, Highway 99 crosses over Fulkerth Road in Turlock on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. aalfaro@modbee.com

Just $31 per year.

That’s what a new report by the Auto Insurance Center, titled “Jammed,” says Turlock drivers average each year in commute-related expenditures. It’s the lowest cost in the nation – the highest being $1,834 for drivers in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Vermont area.

Perhaps take the findings with a grain of salt (“Who are these people that drive 20 feet a day to work?” a Bee reader posed on Facebook), but the insurance center says it analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, the INRIX 2015 Traffic Scorecard and the U.S. Energy Information Association.

Commute costs, it says, are “based on both gasoline consumption and travel time delays (calculated at $17.67 per hour for regular motorists and $94.04 per hour for diesel-using trucks).”

Going hand in hand with the low commute cost, Turlockers also have the least time lost in traffic delays – just one hour a year, the report states. Compare that to the 82 hours the average D.C. driver never will get back.

Ask residents (we did, on our Facebook page) and the responses run from rosy to red – as in seeing red because of long waits at traffic signals.

“Love, love, love Turlock. Can get any place in Turlock in under 15 minutes, unlike Modesto,” said Patty Valverde.

Obviously they didn’t talk to people who get stuck at the red light at Golden State and Tuolumne. The light is always red for Golden State and green for eastbound Tuolumne even when there is not a single car on Tuolumne.

Russell Holeman, on Facebook

Similarly, Lacy Logan Elliott posted, “I’ll take Turlock traffic over Modesto, Tracy, Livermore, Bay Area, LA any day.”

But far more of the Facebook comments focused on poor road conditions and poorly timed traffic signals in Turlock. “Roads are terrible and traffic isn’t bad but the long-as-hell stoplights are,” said Ryan Schambers.

“I spend about one hour a week stuck at red lights that are positioned about 20 feet apart from each other,” Jarrod Winter said.

Darren Rodrigues suggested the light system be upgraded to use radio signals. “I can get across town (in) Modesto in less time, as the lights are programmed,” he posted.

Recalibration of the traffic signal coordination in Turlock’s downtown, Geer Road and Monte Vista Avenue areas is among the city’s next big improvements, said Michael Pitcock, the city’s development services director, via email. “We are in the beginning stages of investigating new wireless technology associated with signal coordination to improve signal efficiency,” he added.

While the commute within Turlock is quick and efficient, we’re already addressing the commute experience of residents that travel outside Turlock, specifically to the Bay Area. We’re aggressively working on a new, Wi-Fi-equipped commuter bus that travels from Turlock to the Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Pleasanton.

Mayor Gary Soiseth

Another Facebook commenter, Johnson Anhar, wrote, “The stops at the lights need to be faster and roads need to be fixed.”

And Crystal Guess agreed that “I think we would all be happier drivers if the city would fix the roads.”

But fixing streets takes money – lots of it – and Turlock voters so far have declined to pass a road tax. A recent Bee article reported that the City Council next will take up the issue of road repairs Aug. 9.

Meantime, Turlock officials say they’re happy the city rated so well in the study, and pleased with what the city has accomplished in terms of traffic planning.

“We have a good arterial and collector network in both the north/south and east/west directions,” Pitcock said. “We have a strong planning process. All annexations over the last 20 years (residential, commercial and industrial) have been completed through a Specific or Master Plan process. … Each of the Specific and Master Plans have area-specific fees that ensure all within the plan area pay a proportionate share of the backbone infrastructure costs. …

As the Turlock Regional Industrial Park grows, there are better-paying jobs available in the city than ever before.

Debbie Whitmore, deputy director of development services and planning

“When developers move in, we identify what we determine are required improvements that need to be constructed prior to (when) the first home or business is constructed. In essence, we want the infrastructure there first. An example of this is that we rebuilt the Monte Vista Interchange at SR99 prior to the construction of our very popular Monte Vista Crossings Shopping Center. This enables our citizens as well as others from other areas of the valley to move quickly to and from their destination.”

Added Mayor Gary Soiseth: “We’ve also invested heavily in our alternative transportation routes, whether they’re more efficient bike lanes or more accommodating bus routes. Turlock’s goal is to see more residents leverage transportation options that don’t require a vehicle, and this study highlights our strategy’s success.”

As for the comment about 20-foot drives to work, that’s not quite the case, but “census data shows that a high percentage of Turlock workers travel a relatively short distance to work,” said Debbie Whitmore, deputy director of development services and planning. “When we developed the general plan, only the 2000 census data was available. In 2000, approximately 75 percent of Turlock workers commuted less than a half-hour to work, and roughly 46 percent of workers had a job in Turlock.”

Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327

Lost time

How much time do you waste stuck in traffic? Average hours of delay each year, according to the “Jammed” report:

  • Turlock 1
  • Merced 8.6
  • Modesto 17.6
  • Stockton 18
  • Sacramento 43
  • San Francisco 78

Commute costs

Drivers in Turlock average the lowest commute-related expenditures: just $31 per year, according to the “Jammed” report. In fact, areas in California dominate the list for lowest driving costs:

  • Hanford, third at $37
  • Tracy, fourth at $38
  • Hemet, fifth at $62
  • Porterville, sixth at $73
  • Madera, eighth at $87
  • El Centro-Calexico, ninth, also at $87