More people commuting from Ascension, Livingston

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Traffic slowly travels west on Interstate 10 from Ascension Parish, as seen Thursday morning from the Highland Road overpass.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Traffic slowly travels west on Interstate 10 from Ascension Parish, as seen Thursday morning from the Highland Road overpass.

More people over the past decade are commuting from Livingston and Ascension parishes to work in East Baton Rouge, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The key factor behind the increase is the continued migration of former Baton Rouge residents to Ascension and Livingston, an ongoing phenomenon that predates Hurricane Katrina, when residents from the flood-ravaged New Orleans area sought refuge in the Baton Rouge area, says LSU demographer and sociology professor Troy C. Blanchard.

Between 2000 and the 2010, the number of Livingston commuters jumped from 19,266 to 24,693 and Ascension commuters from 11,707 to 16,522.

As a percentage of the East Baton Rouge workforce, however, those numbers remain relatively small.

The 2000 Livingston and Ascension commuters represented just 8.6 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively, of the East Baton Rouge workforce.

Those percentages grew to 9.6 and 6.4 percent, respectively, by 2010.

By contrast, the clear majority of people who work in East Baton Rouge also live in the parish, although that percentage declined from 74.5 percent to 71.6 percent over the decade, Blanchard said.

Nevertheless, the increase in cross-parish commuters is a reflection of a strong economy for the entire region, Lauren Hatcher, a spokeswoman for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said Friday.

“The important issues for BRAC are the rate of job growth, the ease of movement for people within the region, the availability of goods and services throughout the region, a strong transportation system, and the quality of life in all the communities in the nine-parish region,” Adam Knapp, BRAC’s president and CEO, said in an written statement.

“It is standard across metro areas in the U.S. for there to be significant commuting patterns. Ideally people would have options to live close to where they work, but they choose where to live for many different reasons. Our region has a strong urban core in the city-parish of Baton Rouge with opportunities for employment that benefits everyone, whether you live in Ascension or Livingston,” Knapp wrote.

Mark Musick, a 36-year-old sales executive for a crane company in Baton Rouge, said his family chose to move to Denham Springs six years ago after a residential stint in Baton Rouge.

“We moved for the schools, number one, as well as the quality of life. We are away from the crime and we sleep better at night,” Musick said.

Musick wakes up each morning at 5:30 a.m., grabs some coffee, reads the paper, gets ready for the day and leaves his house around 6:15 a.m. He drives onto Interstate 12 via the Juban exit and usually gets to work around 6:40 a.m. — if there are no traffic jams on I-12.

He once spent six hours in his car when an interstate wreck snarled traffic between Baton Rouge and Denham Springs.

“I left my office around 4:30 p.m. and got home at 11 p.m.,” Musick said.

That experience aside, Musick said he doesn’t mind the commute at all.

He also noted that seven of the eight technicians who work at his Baton Rouge office live in other parishes.

Laila Kuperman, a 34-year-old human resources information systems analyst with a Baton Rouge engineering firm, said she and her husband used to live in the midcity area of Baton Rouge.

The couple, who now have two children, moved to Prairieville in Ascension Parish in 2005 just before Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana.

“We moved for the great school district and we wanted to get more bang for our buck in housing,” she said.

Kuperman said if she leaves her home at 6:30 a.m., she can make it to work in 20 minutes. If she leaves at 7:15 a.m. or later, it can take up to 45 minutes for the drive on Interstate 10. During some traffic jams, Kuperman said, the trip has taken her up to two hours.

More than once, she said, her husband, who commutes to New Orleans, has made it to work before she has.

“The commute doesn’t bother me,” Kuperman said. “Here (Prairieville), the kids can play in the street and you don’t have to worry about it. It’s not the same in Baton Rouge.”

Metro area commuters are not just traveling to Baton Rouge for work.

From 2000 to 2010, there was a big increase in East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston residents commuting to work in Orleans Parish, Blanchard said.

For instance, he noted that the number of East Baton Rouge residents commuting to work in New Orleans jumped from 597 to 1,889 between 2000 and 2010.

The trend is similar for Ascension and Livingston.

“Overall, this is the lasting impact of 2005,” Blanchard said in reference to Katrina. “The data don’t tell us how many of these commuters were New Orleans residents back in 2005 or if these are people who are willing to commute a longer distance to access the New Orleans labor market.”