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Image: L.A. freeway
Kevork Djansezian  /  AP
The drive into Los Angeles can be a long one for resdients of its outer suburbs.
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updated 3/7/2011 1:10:26 PM ET 2011-03-07T18:10:26

Most working stiffs in Lake Elsinore, Calif., start weekday mornings by getting in their cars and heading in one of two directions: Interstate 15 north toward Los Angeles, 74 miles or so away; or I-15 south for the 73-mile journey to San Diego. Either way, bottlenecks and frustrating congestion await.

California has the most grueling commutes in the nation, but residents of Lake Elsinore take the cake. The average trip to work from the city takes 43.5 minutes, making it the worst commute in the country.

To determine America's longest commutes, we looked at estimates of the mean travel time to work for workers aged 16 and over who work outside their homes, provided by the U.S. Census' American Community Survey. The Census recently released data estimates based on surveys collected between 2007 and 2009 from cities, town and Census-designated places with populations greater than 20,000.

Forbes.com: List of America's worst commutes

The Census data show that the most extreme commuting in the country is in California and the Washington, D.C., area. The four longest commutes in the country are in California, involving commuters heading to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Three of the top 10 worst commuting times belong to towns in Southern California and four are in northern California.

"We tend to be more dispersed," says James Moore, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California. "The forces that disperse cities have more impact here because they have been incident to the cities' existence for a larger portion of the cities' lifetime."

The only areas outside of California that feature such extreme commuting are the Virginia and Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. In Fort Washington, Md.; Oxon Hill-Glassmanor, Md.; and Dale City, Va., the mean commuting time for people heading to work, most of whom are driving to the nation's capital, is slightly longer than 40 minutes.

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While the net result is the same — like wasted time and higher gas expenses — the commuting challenges in Southern California are a bit different than those around San Francisco. In areas around Los Angeles the key issue impacting commuting from places like Adelanto, Calif., which lies about 85 miles away from L.A. at the outer edge of the city's commuting zone, is the sheer size of the geography. But San Francisco is constrained by its peninsula as people try to get across from the East Bay from places like Brentwood, Calif., where the mean commuting time to work is 42.3 minutes. What commuters in southern and northern California have in common is that many of them are driving from suburbs to cities and not from suburbs to suburbs.

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The nation's second worst commute belongs to Los Banos, Calif., where many Silicon Valley workers have settled because of the expense of real estate closer to San Jose, resulting in some crushing commutes. The mean commuting time to work from Los Banos is 42.6 minutes.

But long commuting times have not stopped the mushrooming of exurbs, even in the middle of the desert. Perhaps no city has created crazier commuting times for more people than Palmdale, Calif., which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. With a population of 153,000 and neither an Interstate nor a U.S. Highway nearby, Palmdale has continued to be ever more popular with Los Angeles commuters despite its 40.5-minute mean trip to work.

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© 2012 Forbes.com

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