Survey says two-thirds of Evansville homes send commuters into Dane County

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Gina Duwe
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

EVANSVILLE--The number of Evansville residents commuting to work in Madison or elsewhere in Dane County has increased “substantially” over the last decade, according to a community survey.

About 66 percent of respondents said at least one member of their households commutes north, compared to 55 percent of respondents in a 2004 survey.

“This change reflects a strong and growing economic connection between Evansville and Madison,” an analysis by UW-Oshkosh states. “It also demonstrates the importance of transportation access, an issue that 66.6 percent of residents view as a weak or very weak aspect of what attracts people to Evansville.”

The term “bedroom community” has often described Evansville, but city officials were surprised because the last survey showed commuters split between Janesville and Dane County, Mayor Sandy Decker said.

The shift to Dane County means the city will discuss a park and ride program and economic development along Highway 14 to the north, she said.

“Of course we've been focused on downtown revitalization,” she said. “Also knowing how many people are traveling north, we've not done a lot of looking at the north edge of the city for economic development.”

The survey conducted in January is part of an update to the city's Smart Growth plan. An update is required every 10 years. The city expects to complete it in June 2015.

The survey was sent to all 2,084 households. About 34 percent returned the surveys, equaling 712 responses.

For a community of its size, Evansville has demand for a park-and-ride lot to encourage people to carpool, said Richard Kedzior, a consultant working on the study for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

A 16-county park-and-ride study is underway.

If a park-and-ride lot was built, 28.9 percent of survey respondents said they would likely use it.

It's way too early to say if or when a lot would be built, Kedzior said.

Evansville was atypical in its high satisfaction ratings with the city overall, analysis told the city.

“I think we were really pleased,” Decker said.

Sixty-two percent said they were “satisfied” and 30.6 percent were “very satisfied” with the city as a place to live. Officials also were happy with the high rankings the library and city-owned utility received, she said.

Pothole patching, street maintenance and sidewalk access/conditions were the top areas rated as fair or poor. The report noted the timing of the survey—the middle of winter—as a factor in those responses.

Thirty-seven percent said the city should be full-service where all working, shopping, service, health care and educational needs can be met, while 42.2 percent said the city should be fairly diverse with some commercial, job and housing opportunities.

People would like amenities where they live, but commuters are able to shop where they work, Decker said.

“For a community our size, the question is, 'Can someone open a business and make it viable?'” she said. “We're growing, but we're still a small community.”

More than 73 percent said they were “not very” or “not at all” engaged in city government. The biggest reason, they said, was “insufficient means to interact with government by email, social media, etc.”

The next question, however, asked how residents preferred to receive information, and the largest response was mail, followed by an insert in utility bills. The city has worked hard on its website, and people can sign up for email notifications, Decker said.

The police department recently started a Facebook page, and the city is discussing Facebook and Twitter, she said.

“The concern that we have is staffing is so hard,” she said. “We can see where it'd be very valuable. … How we put it into practice is what we're working on.”

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