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Long commutes becoming more common

Tuesday, July 11, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

Freeway sign showing miles to Lacey, Tacoma, SeattleMore and more, commuters drive 90 minutes or longer to reach their jobs in the Puget Sound area, according to a June 7 Tacoma News Tribune article.

U.S. Census data says the number of Pierce County "long trekkers" climbed 16% between 2010 and 2015. Almost half of Pierce's workers commute to jobs in another county, with most going north to Seattle.

You don't need a Census report to tell you one reason commutes now take longer is clogged roadways. Washington's population is booming, especially in King County.

But home prices are booming there too, so many opt for longer commutes to more-affordable housing outside of King County.

That can take a toll over time. Motorists trapped in traffic grow frustrated and angry when they feel their time is being controlled by others. Road rage is one symptom. But whether a long-distance commuter is stewing over a rude driver or fretting about a lopsided work-life balance, the result is unhealthy – daily, unabated stress.

Or is it all bad?

Skagit Flats field at sunsetMy PEMCO colleague Kelly enjoys her daily commute from the Skagit Flats to downtown Seattle, typically 65 to 75 minutes. She describes the drive as "beautiful," enjoys the wide-open spaces near home, and says housing is more affordable there, as are the groceries.

Mari drives to and from Enumclaw, and though she says her commute isn't pleasant, it's all relative. In exchange for traffic jams she gets "five acres to putz around in and an unobstructed view of Mt Rainier. We raise bees and have a big doggy who likes to run a lot. It makes it worth the commute," she said.

I also have colleagues whose long commutes became horrific, but thankfully they now telecommute most days.

Mike lives in Gig Harbor and works in our Seattle office at least once a week. "The commute is unpleasant, and that's putting it mildly," he said.

Mike leaves home at 4:45 a.m., crosses the Narrows and follows Highway 16 and I-5. After several bottlenecks, the last of which is the horrid Mercer Mess, Mike arrives at PEMCO at 6:45. That's two hours one way, barring rain or accidents. Going home he leaves at 3:30 and pulls into his driveway between 5:45 and 6:00 p.m.

Narrows Bridge connects Tacoma with Gig HarborTelecommuting has been a blessing. Mike says he's far more productive now, working on average two hours more per day at home with no stressful commute. And his extended family prefers the Kitsap Peninsula. "Why do I live so far from Seattle and the PEMCO office? I love PEMCO; I love my family more," he said.

Dana moved to Lacey in 2000, when he could drive to PEMCO's Seattle office in 56 minutes. He did that for three years until traffic got too thick. Today he's a telecommuter who works in our office occasionally. The Lacey-Seattle commute takes him more than two hours in the morning and two to three hours at night. "It's not pleasant or unpleasant; it is insane," Dana said.

Like many long-distance commuters, Dana lives where he does because "houses down here, brand new, are much less expensive than in King, Snohomish, or Pierce counties."

As bad as our traffic might seem, new U.S. Census data shows Washington's average commute time is 27.1 minutes, good for just 12th place nationally. The worst state is New York, at 33.1 minutes.

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Comments on this post

personAndrea08/08/2017 03:37 PM
No matter how far away or close you live to your place of employment, the commute is ridiculous!! For me, I am a mere 12.7 miles from the PEMCO Seattle office, the drive in, avoiding freeways can take as little as 45 minute, which is still a long time given the distance.  Going home, it's a painful hour plus drive with most of it sitting on a side street (watching the light turn green and then red several times) trying to get onto Mercer St. or crossing over it to head south.
I love SeaTown, just not the drive.
personJerry07/13/2017 02:04 AM
27 miles each way, Tacoma to Burien, 35 minutes an hour, 45 minutes average driving in.  At least an hour going home, especially I-5 construction.

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