Gig Harbor’s lower cost and relaxed “weekend” lifestyle attracts more and more Seattle, Bellevue, and other Puget Sound area commuters seeking to combine a big city income with a small-town lifestyle. New home buyers often find navigating bridges, tolls, ferries, as well as numerous buses, trains, and widely varying drive times a challenge. As a local realtor and 25-year resident of Gig Harbor, I’ll walk you through every commuting option available, the pros and cons, and pitfalls to avoid.
Most Gig Harbor commuters travel by car to Seattle or Bellevue, averaging around 1.5 hours travel time each way. Park and Ride bus and train routes are plentiful and popular for air travelers going to SEATAC. The Port Orchard ferry offers a relaxed shortcut to the Seattle Waterfront that saves gas while costing not much more than Narrows Bridge tolls.
Read on for tips and tricks for each of the various commute options.
Table of Commute Times & Costs from Gig Harbor
|Destination (from Gig Harbor)||By Car||Bus from Gig Harbor Park & Ride||Car, then Bus from Tacoma||By Train||By Ferry|
|1 hr 20 min/$5.25 toll||2 hrs/$3.25 fare||–||1 hr/$11 fare + toll||56 min/$360 per mo.|
|1 hr 30 min/$5.25 toll||2 hrs 55min/$3.25 fare||–||1 hr 45 min/$14.25 fare + toll||–|
|1 hr 5 min/$5.25 toll||2 hrs/$3.25 fare||–||–||–|
|To Federal Way/Auburn
|40 min/$5.25 toll||2 hrs 30 min/$3.25 fare||1 hrs 45 min/$8.50||–||–|
|35 min/$5.25 toll||2+ hrs/$3.25 fare||–||–||–|
|30 min/$5.25 toll||2-3 hrs/$3.25+ fare||–||–||–|
|45 min/$5.25 toll||–||1 hr 45 min./$8.50 fare + toll||–||–|
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Seattle
The Classic, Commuting by Car
If you choose to work in Seattle, about 44 miles away, the typical car commute from Gig Harbor in rush hour is about 1 hour and 20 minutes each way. If there’s an accident that can add considerably to that time. Without traffic, this drive takes 50-60 minutes. With recent gas prices and a car that averages 18 mpg, this could cost nearly $900 a month.
Lower Your Carbon Footprint With Mass Transit
For transit options, you can catch the 595 bus from the Kimball Drive Park and Ride to downtown Seattle. It is about the same amount of time as driving, at a cost of $3.25 each way. Keep in mind that except for the downtown area, Gig harbor is not a very walkable region and only about 2% of commuters use mass transit, and only 2.3% walk due to lack of accessibility.
Most of the Harbor’s residential areas are spread out and offer little or no walk-able job opportunities. It could take 45 minutes to 2 hours to walk to a bus stop from many of these areas so the park-and-ride option is probably your best bet if you want to bus it to Seattle.
When using various mass transit options you can rely on an Orca pass to transfer between services and save you money. It can be used on Sound Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Seattle Street Car, the Seattle Monorail, King County Water Taxi and Washington State Ferries.
Old School Commute by Train
The Sounder train is a classic commuting option. A drive to the Tacoma Sounder Station takes 21 minutes. From there the Sounder will get you to Seattle in 45 minutes, for a total travel time of just over an hour plus buffer time for waiting for the train departure.
Fares range from $3.25 to $5.75, with an average monthly cost of $65 to $115.
One issue for this option is that the Tacoma Station is becoming very popular and even the 2 immense parking garages can be hard to find a space in. Many people use the free parking and ride transit to get to the airport, rather than paying airport parking fees.
The bonus of this is traffic congestion won’t alter these times, but train schedules may. The downside of this option is you won’t have a car to navigate Seattle once you get there and may have to take other buses which can be sketchy in today’s climate, or you may have to walk long distances. It’s Seattle, so it’s not unusual to end up in the rain and with long hills.
On the other hand, some more adventurous travelers have been known to pack along an electric scooter or skateboard to traverse the last leg of their journey once in Seattle. Others are lucky enough to work just off one the light rail routes within the city.
Take Advantage of Living in Puget Sound With a Ferry Commute
A uniquely Northwest commuting option is to take the ferry. From Gig Harbor this means a 30-minute drive to the South-worth Ferry Terminal in Port Orchard, waiting for the ferry, and a 26-minute ferry ride to the Seattle waterfront. The walk-on cost of the ferry is $5.92 but taking your car is $19.93 (non-peak) $26.24 (peak times) each way.
You will save the $5.25 one-way toll at the Narrows bridge by taking this route. On the ferry, you get a 26-minute break from commuting to have a scenic boat ride, get fresh air and take a bathroom break.
The cost of the daily rates is high but with a Puget Pass the monthly cost is $360. This is further reduced by subtracting the cost of the toll bridge, approximately $255, plus factor in the cost of only using about 1/2 the amount of gas. These days of fluctuating prices can mean substantial savings by reducing even some of your gas.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Bellevue
Bellevue is another ‘Super Commuter’ metro area with a strong economy and numerous technology companies. What started as an upscale suburb of Seattle years ago, has become a thriving metropolitan city of its own, made up of a large population of international tech workers. An indeed.com search of jobs within 15 miles of Bellevue shows 61,529 jobs.
Keeping It Personal, Commuting by Car
Bellevue is approximately 47 miles away and during rush hour a car commute is about 1 hour and 30 minutes, each way.
To get to Bellevue the only option is 405, a narrower older freeway that was built smaller back when Bellevue was mainly a residential area. It runs along Lake Washington meaning that there are no real options for side road detours. This area is known as the “S-curves” and I find that it is congested at nearly all times of the day.
Mix It Up – Combine Car and Mass Transit
All mass transit options to commute to Gig Harbor from Bellevue are 2 hours and 45 minutes to 3 hours during rush hour. Because of limited bus services within Gig Harbor, depending on where you live, you will probably need a car ride to get to the Kimball Park and Ride.
From there you can catch a bus to the TCC center, then transfer twice to get to the bus station in downtown Tacoma (one of these buses on a recent morning commute check online, showed very few seats left, so you may need to reserve seating beforehand or risk not getting a seat.).
From there you catch a bus to Seattle and then an express bus to Bellevue. This will put the one-way commute during rush hour at approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. Clearly, this would be a difficult on a daily basis with the round trip taking 5.5 hours of your day. At night buses are more limited, so commuting in off-hours can actually take even longer.
Stay on Track: Take the Train
If a person was set on taking the train, you could drive to the Sounder station in Tacoma (16-20 min.), park there (large garage, but at times, is full) and take the Sounder to Seattle. From there one can ride the express bus to Bellevue. During a morning commute, I think this would all take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes.
As highlighted in the Seattle commute section the ORCA pass will transfer between different types of services.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Renton
An often overlooked job market is Renton, just southeast of Seattle. This gritty suburb has developed a large downtown core and economy. A job search online for Renton boasts 77,000+ job listings, more than even Bellevue. This is a major location for Boeing, one of the largest aerospace companies in the world, which historically has been a foundation of the economy of Puget Sound.
By Car to Renton
Located 36 miles from Gig Harbor, the rush-hour commute for Renton takes 50 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Without traffic, the drive is less than 45 minutes.
Not a Mass Transit-friendly Commute
Mass Transit is limited to and from Renton, making it a poor option for this destination, and taking over 2 hours without traffic. Also, Renton is very spread out and not a walkable community.
There are no train options to reach Renton.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Federal Way/Auburn
South of this area lies Federal Way and Auburn. Both towns used to be just part of the distant suburban sprawl of Seattle, and have grown into their own small cities. A job search for Federal Way shows nearly 23,000 listings. Commuting by car to Federal Way or Auburn means navigating the Fife area which has become one of the most congested spots on I-5
The All American Car Commute
The distance to Federal Way is 23 miles. Without traffic this takes roughly 28 minutes. Because this commute still takes you through the extreme congestion of Fife, on a bad traffic afternoon this may take 45 minutes or more. The distance to Auburn is 24 miles with a similar commute time.
All of the above commutes take you North on I-5 and pass through the Fife area. In recent years traffic there has become one of the worst back-ups in Puget sound.
I-5 in this spot is flanked by Fife Heights and the Port of Tacoma on one side and Milton and Fife on the other. None of these areas offer great options for getting out of the bottleneck and they also end up very congested with the I-5 overflow in the mornings and late afternoon/early evening.
A commute to Federal Way can take 30 minutes but during peak traffic times that can increase to an hour. Traffic through Fife can start building as early as 2:30 in the afternoon and worsen as the day progresses. In the mornings this congestion stretches from the juncture of Highway 16 through north Tacoma.
Personally, I find that one way to avoid hefty backups here is to go through downtown Tacoma and take the 705 to Portland Ave. This allows you to get on I-5 just north of the worst morning traffic of Tacoma.
However, I think a good thing to keep in mind is that in recent years this traffic has been exasperated by long-term construction projects to widen this area of I-5. This will be an issue for any commute north of Tacoma, but will hopefully lead to better commute times for everyone in the long run.
Mass Transit Combo, Car, Bus, and Train
The fastest means of mass transit to Auburn from Gig Harbor requires driving into Tacoma to the TCC Transit Center. From there you can get to Auburn in 1 hour and 46 minutes by taking a bus to the light rail to the Tacoma Dome station and catch the Sounder train to Auburn.
There are also options by bus without a car but they will take you 2.5 hours or longer, which, in my experience, isn’t a reasonable commute time for most people.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and Dupont
Commuting from Gig Harbor to the south of Tacoma is not as difficult but at times can face backups through the area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). This military base is a combination of an Air force base and an Army base, making it one of the country’s largest military facilities. This base brings jobs to the local economy and causes the small city of Dupont to have a job market equal to Tacoma.
Commuting to Dupont via Car
For me, this is usually a 30-40 minute drive each way without traffic. The traffic flow around the base is variable and does not have typical rush hour times. Depending on activity at the base, it can back up but this cannot be predicted by typical “rush hour” time frames.
Bus Options Are Not Useful in This Commute
Mass transit is a poor option here with any commute needing numerous bus exchanges, walking and even potentially some driving still. This ordeal can take over 2 hours and, at certain times of day, over 3 hours, compared to the 30 minutes it usually takes me in my personal vehicle to make the drive.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Puyallup
A Quick and Easy Car Ride
Puyallup lies east of Tacoma and is a commuting option that avoids the North Tacoma slowdowns on I-5. Puyallup offers nearly 20,000 job listings on Indeed, currently. That is even more than Tacoma.
The main route is 512, which is becoming more of a congested area during rush hour but still much better than I-5, and is likely to entail less time and stress than commuting north. In my experience, you can expect your one-way commute to be 30-40 minutes unless there is an accident or other traffic blockage.
The Bus Is Complicated
There is a bus service but it is convoluted and requires numerous exchanges and takes over 2 hours. It’s not a desirable option.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Olympia
Further south on I-5 you will find the state’s Capitol. The city of Olympia is beautiful and has a vibrant downtown filled with interesting shops and dining options, but suffers from crime and homelessness. Olympia boasts an abundance of government jobs but only about 1/2 of the job market of either Tacoma or Dupont.
Many people with jobs related to state government would find Gig Harbor an idyllic place to call home.
Drive the Reverse-Commute With One Potential Hiccup
On average you can expect about a 45 min. commute to downtown Olympia, but that can increase unexpectedly due to congestion at the entrance of JBLM. This is nowhere near the issue that I-5 has north of Tacoma. If there is a blockage or accident in the area of JBLM, there are almost no side roads for detour options as the base covers a large area on both sides of the freeway.
Drive to Tacoma or Lakewood, Bus to Olympia
Sound Transit does provide morning commuter routes to Olympia from Tacoma and Lakewood, but they take 60-90 minutes each way on top of the time it takes to drive to the respective transit centers. I’d expect a total commute time of 90 minutes – 2 hours, which is 3-4X longer of a commute than driving.
Commuting From Gig Harbor to Bremerton/Kitsap County/Olympic Peninsula
By Car Is Basically Your Main Option
To the north of Gig Harbor lies Port Orchard and about 30 minutes north is Bremerton and Silverdale. There is not much of a job market in Bremerton, but there is a naval base there. Silverdale is mainly a retirement community with some big box amenities.
The Penninsula is very rural with small towns scattered across it. Further out is the quaint town of Pouslbo. A great place to visit but offers few work options and is mainly made up of small local businesses, bakeries, shops and Cafes. It is a popular weekend destination.
The good news is that if you are lucky enough to be able to work in one of these communities, traffic is rarely a problem traveling North on Highway 16, making these scenic and pleasant drives.
The drive to Bremerton takes about 34 minutes and is 30 miles. To Silverdale it is 28 miles and takes 31 minutes. Driving to Poulsbo is 37 miles away and a 40 minute drive.
By Bus, Not So Much
Unfortunately, none of these areas have quality mass transit options so car is the only viable commuting option.
General Gig Harbor Traffic and Commuting Information
Commuting Within Town
Traffic in Gig Harbor is busy but not problematic. Not long ago it was a sleepy bedroom community that has become a bustling area with a growing population and rapid development. The infrastructure of roadways was never made with this type of growth in mind so while traffic flows, it can get very hectic in certain commercial areas.
The only backups on Highway 16 occur at the Purdy exit, where the Purdy bridge is the main access to The Key Peninsula and is not able to handle the volume of development in recent years. Lower prices have drawn a large population to this area that not long ago was very rural and remote.
Off of Highway 16, the main congestion is in the commercial areas of Gig Harbor North, Uptown, and Downtown where residents shop and run errands.
The infrastructure of these districts is becoming overwhelmed by the increase in population. A short time ago, during the most recent development in both Uptown and Gig Harbor North, no one could have foreseen the area would ever see such explosive growth in such a short time.
There are very few neighborhoods that are immediately accessible to the freeway. Nearly anywhere you are going to choose to live in the area is going to mean having the patience to drive slowly on winding roads with stop signs, lights, and people jogging or walking their dogs. In many areas, it is forested enough that hitting a deer or coyote or some such animal is a possible risk.
Gig Harbor also has limited mass transit options.
There are commuter lines, such as the 100 bus that runs from Purdy to Tacoma Community College Transfer Center via a stop at the Gig Harbor annex of TCC, and the 595 that goes to Seattle. These options arrive at 2-3 locations but you will need personal transportation to get to them in most cases.
Between Downtown and Uptown, a trolley bus service runs from mid-June until September. This is helpful for summer events where Downtown parking is very limited.
The Tacoma Narrows
Commuting south over the Narrows means tolls. The current toll to cross into Tacoma (there is no toll entering Gig Harbor), is $6.25 but most people have the Good To Go pass, which drops it to $5.25, and also means you do not have to drive through the toll booths. For those working five times a week, this will average $105 per month.
As stated above, if you do want to use mass transit, having an ORCA pass is very helpful. When using various mass transit options you can rely on an Orca pass to transfer between services and save you money. It can be used on Sound Transit, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, The Sounder Train, Seattle Street Car, the Seattle Monorail, King County Water Taxi and Washington State Ferries.
Using an Orca Pass for the Train and Other Mass Transit
You can use the ORCA card to transfer between services. Your first-leg fare counts toward the second leg of your trip. If the second leg of your trip costs the same or less than your first, your transfer is free. If your second leg costs more than the first, your ORCA card will automatically deduct the difference from your E-purse balance.
Transfer values expire in two hours after you first tap your ORCA card to begin your trip.
The ORCA pass has a long list of options including a Regional Day Pass, a monthly Puget Pass and an E-Purse option. These can be viewed in depth on their website.
The South-worth Ferry is about 30 minutes from Gig Harbor and has a variety of options from a single walk on ticket for $6.10 (or $79.70 Monthly Pass) to drive on vehicle passes for $26.55 ($171.80 monthly pass). There are many options and discounts for special needs (seniors, disability, low income). Please check out the full details at the WA state Ferry website.
Despite long commutes, Gig Harbor features less traffic congestion than many areas in Puget Sound with a vibrant community and low crime rate, making it one of the more popular lifestyles in the area. The last few years have seen drastic changes from fast growth and this will likely bring even more changes in the not-distant future.