DATA: Click here to download an Excel spreadsheet showing five areas with the highest percentage of long-time commuters.

The Chicago region has seen tremendous expansion since 1990 with many people spending hundreds of hours commuting to and from their jobs each year. For years, Nicol Lee was one of them. She drove from northwest suburban Algonquin to her job as a nonprofit executive in Chicago. But in late 2007, Lee decided to switch to public transportation–”a move many others across the country are making in the face of soaring gas prices.

As an extension of this year’s Chicago Matters series about regional sustainability, The Chicago Reporter examined travel times for commuters in Chicago, the five collar counties and Grundy County in 1990 and 2006. The Reporter found increases throughout the region in the percentage of people spending a minimum of two hours for their daily commute–”increases that outpaced job growth in each county.

On a county-wide level, the highest percentages of people with these lengthy commutes were found in Will and McHenry counties–”where nearly 1 in every 6 drivers spent at least two hours each day driving to and from work. In smaller areas on Chicago’s far South Side and in south suburban Cook County, more than 1 in every 5 commuters made these lengthy trips.

The Reporter found:

* The number of people who commuted more than 60 minutes each way increased in each of the seven counties the Reporter examined. The percentage increase in the number of these commuters was higher than the growth in workers in each of these counties.

* The combined total of people who commuted more than one hour each way in the seven counties grew more than 41 percent from 1990 to 2006. The number of workers in these counties increased 12 percent during the same years.

* In Will and Grundy counties, the number of people commuting more than 60 minutes each way more than tripled from 1990 to 2006–”the region’s highest increase.

* Will, Grundy and McHenry Counties had the highest percentage, about 16 percent, of workers driving more than one hour to and from work.

* The five areas with the highest percentages of people commuting more than 60 minutes each way were majority-minority areas with high levels of public transportation use on the South Side of Chicago and the south suburbs of Cook County.

Jeff is the founder and executive director of the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism (CCIJ) and the Padnos/Sarosik Endowed Professor of Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University....