Nearly 40 percent of all metro-east residents are traveling outside their county of residence for work --a figure one expert believes points to the need for further cooperation between local governments to ensure economic growth.
More than 102,000 local residents commute each day outside their home county, according to a News-Democrat analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
A majority of those workers, nearly 71,000 people, commute to St. Louis city or county from St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties in Illinois. The mass transit of metro-east workers across the Mississippi River makes it the 11th largest commute of inter-state workers in the country.
By comparison, about 14,700 residents from Missouri commuted into St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties -- although about 80 percent of the jobs in the Illinois counties are filled with workers living in the same county.
The findings show an interdependency between regions for economic growth, according to Jerry Blair, director of transportation planning for the local think-tank East-West Gateway Council of Governments.
"It really begs the question, how do we begin to act like a region more than we have in the past in terms of economics and social development? It has been an elusive question because we are divided by states, regions, 12 counties and hundreds of municipalities," Blair said. "It is hard to come up with a plan to pursue economic growth.
"We have kind of recognized it at a superficial level but we still don't act on it too often. For instance the new Mississippi (River) bridge was needed and was a rare act in concert on both sides of the river."
Going where the jobs are
Blair said that while a "healthy number of metro-east residents still work in Illinois," census findings show more people are traveling farther for work.
"In general what we're seeing on the Illinois side is fewer people working in their county of residence," Blair said. "More residents are having to go outside their immediate county for employment. It doesn't mean there are fewer jobs just different choices on where they work."
State reports on the workforce population in the metro-east show more workers than jobs filled.
There are 93,000 more people in the local workforce than jobs filled within the three counties, according to the most recent figures from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
The department reports about 283,000 people in the civilian workforce compared to a little more than 190,000 filled jobs in the metro-east.
The News-Democrat reported Monday that Belleville has the largest number of jobs in the metro-east with more than 26,000, due to a diverse palette of health-care, legal, government and manufacturing jobs, followed by Alton, Edwardsville, Granite City and Scott Air Force Base.
St. Louis resident Tim Beadle found his job in Belleville after expanding his search to Illinois.
"I definitely expected when I moved to St. Louis to find a job downtown easier, especially since I have a bachelor's degree and experience in my field," Beadle said. "It's been great so far for the most part, though. I really like the metro-east."
Longer commutes than 30 years ago
"In 1980, in both Madison and St. Clair county, about 70 percent of residents worked in the county," Blair said. "Now that's down to 50 or 60 percent depending on the survey. That's a pretty big movement percentage-wise even though it is over a 30-year period."
Longer distances typically mean increased travel time, Blair said, and the biggest congestion problem for Illinois residents is crossing bridges, especially into downtown St. Louis.
Like many commuters, Beadle said he meets congestion each day as he crosses the Poplar Street Bridge linking downtown St. Louis with Illinois.
"That is my absolute spot where I always get stuck at every day," Beadle said. "I get out of work at 3:30 in the afternoon right as rush hour starts. That's when I hit most of the traffic."
"At the same time, bridge volume has not increased dramatically," Blair said, noting there has only been a 1 percent annual growth rate of bridge traffic since 2001. "Where you would expect growth to take place it hasn't taken place"
Blair attributes the slow growth rate to fewer Illinois residents working in St. Louis city and more working in St. Louis County.
"Once you have that, there are many more choices on the bridges to use," Blair said. "The bridge traffic gets distributed differently so people can avoid congestion."
The new Mississippi River bridge currently under construction is expected to ease congestion even further. The yet-unnamed bridge is due to open in 2014.
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.