Corn in Iowa. Soybeans in Illinois. Slow and snarled traffic in the Quad-Cities.
Which of these things doesn’t hold true?
Quad-Citians don’t hold back about the busyness — and quality — of their roadways. As the Interstate 74 renovation project barrels on, congestion on major roads likely will get worse.
But data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that residents of the Quad-Cities have less to complain about than residents of other metro areas in Illinois and Iowa do. In the Quad-Cities, commutes tend to be relatively short, and traffic tends to be lighter than it is elsewhere in the bi-state region.
In Rock Island County, a majority of people who leave home for work have a commute time of less than 20 minutes, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS).
In Scott County, the average commute is 19 minutes long — exactly the state average.
In both counties, only about 2.7 percent of commuters travel more than 60 minutes to work. Six times as many workers travel less than 10 minutes, according to the data.
“For the most part we’ve got a fairly good level of service throughout the city,” said Brian Schadt, city engineer of Davenport. “When you think about driving around, it’s not very often that you have to sit through multiple light cycles, unless there’s an issue of some sort.”
When compared to drivers across the nation, Iowans have the seventh-shortest average commute, according to census data, whereas Illinoisians have the seventh-longest.
In Illinois, counties of similar size to Rock Island County occasionally have longer commutes. In Winnebago County, which contains the city of Rockford, the average commute time is almost 20 percent longer than the commute time in Rock Island County. In Sangamon County, which includes the state capital, the average commute is 12 percent longer.
Congestion in Scott County compares favorably to other counties across Iowa. According to recent data on major roadway congestion across the state, Scott County had a better vehicle-to-capacity ratio — a measurement of roadway congestion — than Polk and Linn counties, Iowa’s most populous counties.
For Quad-Cities drivers, the relatively easy flow of traffic is a perk, especially as commutes grow longer nationally.
It also might be a boon to public health.
Researchers studying the link between commuting and personal well-being have found that shorter commutes yield benefits.
“People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being,” wrote researchers Alois Stutzer and Bruno Frey in a 2008 paper studying commuters in Germany.
Why are longer commutes associated with poor health?
One reason: More time spent in the car means less time exercising.
Long commutes are associated with “higher weight, lower fitness levels and higher blood pressure, all of which are strong predictors of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers,” researcher Christine Hoehner, formerly of Washington University in St. Louis, told CNN.
Even a few minutes stolen by traffic each day can add up. Research suggests that just five minutes of running a few times a week can lower your risk of premature death.
Exposure to traffic itself can hamper health. “The daily hassles of traffic can lead to higher chronic stress and higher blood pressure,” Hoehner said.
Traffic also begets higher levels of smog, and poor air quality has a bevy of negative consequences for health. One study found that the health risks from vehicle-borne air pollution are “potentially significant.”
According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, there were 189 “good days” for air quality in Rock Island County in 2018, about 27 more than the national average. Scott County averaged just 138 “good days.”
Living near congestion can also yield ill results on the cardiovascular system, increasing the incidence of heart attacks and strokes. According to a team of researchers at the University of California-Irvine who examined changes in pollutants from vehicles, “blood pressure went up with increased traffic pollutants, and EKG changes showed decreased blood flow to the heart,” doctoral candidate Sharine Wittkopp told University of California News.
As the I-74 renovations continue to pinch local traffic, congestion on major thoroughfares likely will pile up.
But consider yourself lucky. The situation might get worse, and the drive might feel long, but somewhere near and far, the commute is much worse.
“There are minimal delays as you travel through our city,” Schadt said. “It’s certainly not like your larger metropolitan area.”