Suburban flight: Commuting to work less attractive as gas prices soar

Monday, August 18, 2008

From an article by Mike Ivey in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Debbie Kelly and her husband, Tom, have been living the dream for years.

They've got a cozy home nestled in the Wyoming Valley, the bucolic Iowa County setting where architect Frank Lloyd Wright drew his inspiration.

Deer graze in the yard. Orioles flock to the bird feeder. When nights are clear, the Milky Way lights the sky.

It's a little slice of heaven -- save for the 45-mile commute to work.

It wasn't a big financial drain driving into Madison, even as gasoline passed $2 a gallon in 2004 or $3 last summer. But for Debbie Kelly, $4 fuel has been the tipping point.

Now, instead of driving all the way to her nursing job at the Dean Clinic on Fish Hatchery Road, Kelly will often park in Verona and ride her bicycle the rest of the way. One night a week, she camps in the back of her pickup truck at Lake Farm County Park, south of the Beltline on the shores of Lake Waubesa.

"They've got the hottest showers," said Kelly, 54, a mother of three.

Kelly admits she's thought about moving closer to the city. The time spent driving and the rising costs are beginning to wear. But she said her husband isn't budging.

"Tom will probably go with the property," she said. "I don't think he'll ever leave the valley."

Whether high fuel prices are going to affect where people in Wisconsin live remains to be seen. It's not that simple to just pick up and move, especially for those who already own a home.

Still, it's a question crossing the minds of many who chose to buy a home miles from their place of employment or school.

"It really hit me when it cost nearly $100 to fill up the truck last week," said Rich Eggleston, who lives in Fitchburg and commutes to his job downtown at the Alliance of Cities.

And there are early indications that life in the suburbs is starting to look less attractive to home buyers.