Jeanette Bennett, utahvalley360.com

trafficDon Mills gets up at 5:30 every morning to take a carpool to Salt Lake City, where he works in the curriculum department for the LDS Church. Sometimes the commute is as short as 40 minutes, and sometimes traffic stretches the 40 miles out to more than an hour and a half.

But he, and thousands like him, are willing to make the daily commute so they can live in Utah County.

Mills’ reason? His children.

“I have two autistic kids, and they need the one-on-one attention they can get at Oakridge Elementary,” Mills says. Many people suggested he take them to the Jordan School District, but he knows living in Utah County is best for Ryan and Joey.

And he’s not alone in his decision to work in the capitol city and live in Happy Valley.

More than 10,000 Utah County residents head north for their jobs.

Lee Stokes of American Fork has made the Salt Lake commute for 2 1/2 years. Although he dislikes spending so much time on the freeway, he knows it is worth it.

“Open spaces are disappearing in Salt Lake,” Stokes says. “The schools are too big, and the lifestyle too rushed.”

Stokes rides the UTA into downtown. In fact, he moved his family from Payson to American Fork so he would be better positioned to commute by bus.

The UTA runs 36 buses from the Provo-Orem area to Salt Lake City each morning, with 23 of them stopping at the TRAX station in Sandy. The largest employer for the Utah County commuters is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which subsidizes bus fares and has a sophisticated carpooling system.

“I can’t put gas in my car for what I have to pay for a bus pass,” Stokes says.

But cost isn’t the only reason to take the bus.

“Drivers have lost their sense of courtesy,” Stokes laments. “I feel less frustrated taking the bus than if I had to maneuver I-15 myself.”

The UTA commuters have developed a community of their own riding together each day, week after week.

They say things like, “Remember BYU’s first home game last year? That was the longest bus ride I’ve ever had.” And they remind each other to take an earlier bus when the next BYU game comes along.

Although there are advantages to public transportation, Murphy’s Law also comes into play, according to Terry Johnson, who lives in Utah County and works for the LDS Church in the missionary department.

“The rule is either you’re on time and the bus is late, or you’re late, and the bus is on time. They never come together.”

But even with the idiosyncrasies of commuting 40 miles on a freeway, commuters know they’re getting the best deal.

“There is no question it’s worth it,” Johnson says.

Stokes shares another “insider tip” to commuting via UTA.

“People are more talkative on Mondays and Tuesdays,” he says. “But by Thursdays and Fridays, everyone is tired and grumpy — I know I am. And everyone is grumpy in the mornings.”

As Stokes rode home on a Monday afternoon he said, “I feel a nap coming on.” And everyone nodded in agreement.

Even if these bus riders don’t know each other’s names, they know faces. There’s the girl who gets on with wet hair each morning. Or the man you avoid because he talks on his cell phone all the way there — and not in his quiet voice.

But for the most part, these bus commuters come to know and care about each other.

“How is your son’s broken arm?” one rider asks the driver. And the driver responds as if she’s telling her best friend the details. The driver even asks the riders for their vote — do we try to get out of downtown via 5th south or should we try the 13th south route?” And she goes with their recommendations.

Commuting isn’t just transportation — it becomes part of the daily social routine.

Average price for 3-bedroom home
Salt Lake City    $165,000
Provo        $150,000
Per capita income
Salt Lake County     $24,300
Utah County     $17,500
Salt Lake County     865,000
Utah County    370,000
Land area
Salt Lake County     737 square miles
Utah County     1,998 square miles
People per square mile
Salt Lake County     1,144 per square mile
Utah County     177 per square mile
Average people in household
Salt Lake County     2.85 per household
Utah County     3.45 per household
Annual rate of population growth
Salt Lake County     1.6 percent growth
Utah County     3.2 percent growth
Cost of commute
By car: $6/day in gas (plus wear and tear)
By bus: $4/day (or less with monthly pass)
Time for commute
On UTA                2.5 to 3 hours roundtrip
In car               1.5 to 2 hours roundtripIf you commuted by bus for 10 years, you would spend 325 solid days on the bus!

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