Cedric Cole’s commute from North Bend to Dupont keeps him in his car for over an hour each way when traffic is normal. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com
Cedric Cole’s commute from North Bend to Dupont keeps him in his car for over an hour each way when traffic is normal. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

Traffic

Are tail lights all you see? Half of us live here and work somewhere else

July 07, 2017 7:00 AM

You think your commute is bad? Talk to Cedric Cole.

He works in operations management for FedEx Ground in DuPont. He lives in North Bend.

“My daily one-way commute is 59.3 miles if I take I-90/Highway 18/I-5, and 70.7 miles if I break off Highway 18 at state Route 167 and take that to I-5,” he told The News Tribune in response to a request for commuters to share their stories.

Neither of those options sounds like a joyride to us.

“In the morning,” Cole continued, “the commute (on average) is about an hour and 10 minutes. In the evening, the commute is (on average) two hours.”

Then there’s his fuel costs: “Usually just over $110 a week to and from work only,” he said. “Usually about $150 total.”

And he’s just one in a long line of drivers ahead of you.

In Western Washington, living a stone’s throw from your job is becoming more the exception than rule.

The number of Pierce County commuters who say it takes five or fewer minutes to get to work dropped to 8,174 in 2015 from 10,084 in 2010, according to U.S. Census data.

A growing share of workers who live here commute 90 minutes or more to their workplaces, according to the data.

The bureau estimates 13,403 people commuted from Pierce County on a 90-minute trek to their jobs in 2015 — a nearly 16 percent increase from 2010.

In that same time frame, total commuters increased by 2.5 percent.

And every year there are more of us getting behind the wheel and heading off to work.

From 2010 to 2016, Pierce County added 65,875 people, according to the U.S. Census.

From 2015 to last year, it added 18,636 — that’s roughly 51 people a day. It was the first time Pierce County grew faster than King in more than a decade.

Thurston County added 6,039 people last year.

Nearly half of workers living in Pierce County commute to jobs out of the county. And that’s probably not changing anytime soon.

According to a study released in September by WorkForce Central, 48 percent of the 308,000 workers who live in Pierce County commute elsewhere to work.

Seattle draws the largest percentage out of our county, at 19 percent, according to the report.

Funeral director commutes 200 miles to work each day

Davis LaMuerta, a funeral director and mortician at Mills & Mills Funeral Home in Tumwater, says his exhausting drive leaves him little free time.

Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

CHEAPER HOUSING HERE, BUT JOBS ELSEWHERE

One reason we’re spending hours on the highway, getting from one to the other, is because of Pierce County’s more affordable housing compared to King — for now.

In May, Pierce County crossed the $300,000 median home price threshold. Still that’s far below King County’s median price for homes, which in May was $632,250, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service.

By June, Pierce closed median home sale price was at $317,000, while King was at $653,000.

This is not merely a King County real estate “creep.”

“It is appearing now more as a ‘surge’ from King County to the Key Peninsula as well,” said Rob Home, branch manager for Windermere Key Realty via email. “I would estimate that at least 50 percent of our sales are to folks from Kent, Renton, Tukwilla, etc. They are being priced out of those areas.”

There’s more to it than that, though.

“(Buyers from King County) can cash in on their increased equities there and buy here, where we are still at around $150 to $160 per square foot,” Home said. “Even Tacoma’s North End is running $250 to $300 per square foot.”

The land rush extends along state Route 16.

“As far as Port Orchard goes; they are feeling it, too,” noted Home.

An enhanced ferry system from Bremerton to Seattle now make Kitsap County a growing hot spot for those looking to buy and skip Interstate 5 or any of the other jammed highways.

May’s pending sales in Kitsap County, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service, rose 8.4 percent from a year ago, compared with a 2.6 percent decline in King County.

Even with Pierce County’s “bargain” housing prices, work of a certain income is needed. And that doesn’t appear to be here for half of those working and calling Pierce County home, so they’re hitting the road.

“Pierce County has more workers than jobs, but employers aren’t enjoying the benefits of the surplus,” according to a statement supplementing the WorkForce Central report online.

“Employers compete for qualified workers with Seattle and King County, where wages tend to be higher and brand name companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing attract candidates due to perceptions around prestige and opportunities for advancement.”

The local picture for who might hire Pierce County’s new residents includes Amazon with its new warehouse in Sumner and UPS’ new warehouse on the Tacoma Tideflats.

According to the WorkForce Central report, Pierce County is home “to a larger share of the construction, trade, transportation and logistics industries than any other county” in the state.

Sumner can attest to that as it welcomed news of the Amazon warehouse, announced June 1.

“Jobs like this affect our entire region, supporting families and reducing the need for Pierce County residents to commute to King County,” Mayor Dave Enslow said in a statement at that time.

An employment forecast released June 2017 by state Employment Security Department show another 30,000 jobs added in King County through next year. Thousands of those are in the sciences and software industry: software developers, computer and math occupations, financial jobs and software developers.

By comparison, Pierce County could generate nearly 6,600 through next year, mostly in blue-collar work: construction trades, office administration, food preparation, sales and transportation and materials moving.

THE COMMUTE CONTINUES

It’s one thing to complain or write reports about what Pierce County residents are experiencing as they try to get to and from work. It’s another to live it every day.

Erin McNeel commutes the 30-plus miles from Lacey to Sea-Tac Airport five days a week as a part-time employee with Delta Air Lines.

“I used to live in Fife but now that we work part-time we wouldn’t have much money left to live on after bills and rent,” she said in an email. “So, money keeps me from living closer.”

She leaves after 6 p.m. to get to her job by 8 p.m.

“The roughest part of the commute is Hawks Prairie on Sundays. If it’s backed up, it takes me about 20 minutes to go maybe four to five miles,” she said, adding that the going is slow near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In Thurston County, fewer workers — 2.5 percent — endured 90-plus minute commutes in 2015 as did in 2010 at 3.1 percent, the Census data show.

But remember, 35 percent of Thurston County workers head to their cubicles each day in either federal, state, or local government jobs after driving in from fairly close range, according to state Employment Security Department.

Of that, state jobs alone account for 23,100 full- and part-time jobs in the county or more than 18 percent of the county workforce.

WHAT EXPERTS ADVISE

If you’re one of those making the long haul every work day, maybe it’s time to rethink your life amid all this driving.

Subtracting work, sleep and commuting, the average person has about 60 hours each week of spare time, notes author Mike Lauesen, in his new book, “Getting Off the Treadmill: Escaping the Race to Nowhere.”

“Make the best use of your commute by focusing on driving and and learning,” he writes. “Examples may be listening to books on tape, a variety of podcasts to broaden your perspective and meditative sounds and music.”

Seattle-based Halley Bock, author of “Life, Incorporated: A Practical Guide to Wholehearted Living,” also makes the case that mindfulness matters.

“Any time we subject ourselves to situations where we have little to no control (such as commuting, doctor appointments, travel, etc) we should take care to ensure the best possible mindset before we enter the situation in order to prevent us from becoming emotionally hijacked by the actions (or inactions) of others,” she wrote The News Tribune in response to questions about coping with commuting.

“We become reactionary and easily upset because our happiness rests on the actions and decisions of others; we become the victims of a slow down, a distracted driver, someone cutting us off,” she wrote.

“It’s best to take a few deep breaths before setting off on the commute to consciously put the mind in a relaxed, receptive state. ... So when a driver cuts us off or traffic comes to a standstill, we can simply take a deep breath and choose to be in the flow of what is happening instead of trying to control it.”

What about a work-life balance, working in King County and living in Pierce County (or farther away)?

“If owning a home is important and the job situation cannot change, then staying in a situation like this for one to three years may be manageable,” Bock wrote.

“But after this time frame, look to switch the position to a blend of telecommuting and/or search for another vocation that provides closer proximity and/or the telecommuting options ... with adequate time off the road and with your family.”

Remember, it could be worse: Washington state actually ranks 12th in the nation for average commute times, at 27.1 minutes. No. 1 was New York at 33.1 minutes.

BACK ON THE ROAD

As a Fed Ex operations manager, working at home is not an option for Cole. And, it will be awhile before he can move closer to his job.

“My fiancee’s parenting plan with her ex-husband requires her to be in the same ZIP Code as him,” Cole said. “I can’t move to Oly for another four years, when her daughter turns 18.”

In the meantime, music keeps him going.

“I am a music freak ... I have a very eclectic supply of music so I may hear a Soundgarden song, followed by a Miles Davis song followed by a Loreena McKennitt song.”

Reflecting back for a recent News Tribune video ride-along, he recalls road trips with friends to California.

“I’ve always been fine with driving.”

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports

A way to opt out

of driving

Pierce Transit does offer vanpool and vanshare options.

To learn more, go to piercetransit.org/get-started and piercetransit.org/vanshare

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for unlimited digital access to our website, apps, the digital newspaper and more.