City Council hears plans for I-5 improvements

A plan to spend $72.9 million to replace three bridges, alleviate traffic congestion, and improve safety along a stretch of Interstate 5 between the Tacoma Dome and South 38th Street will follow a speedy timeline, according to engineers at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“That’s what the community wants: get in, get the work done, and get out quick,” said DOT project engineer Howard Diep, who spoke yesterday during the Tacoma City Council study session. Diep told councilmembers that DOT engineers have trimmed the project schedule from 1,000 days to 530 days — an “aggressive” timeline resulting from feedback from community members most impacted by removing three bridges: Yakima/Thompson, G/Delin, and Tacoma Avenue. Later this month, the Yakima/Thompson bridge will close, followed by the G/Delin bridge in May, and the Tacoma Avenue bridge in June.

“When the Tacoma bridge is closed, it will never come back again,” said Diep.

Indeed, when the project is completed in 2008, only two bridges will be replaced: the Yakima/Thompson bridge and a combined Tacoma Avenue/G Street/Delin bridge.

The visual distractions associated with tearing down three major bridges might impact traffic along I-5, said engineers. Additionally, city streets might see an increase in traffic along Center Street, Jefferson Avenue, and Pacific Avenue — two major detour routes identified by city planners.

According to Steve Shanafelt, the city has adjusted four traffic signals along Center Street to meet the anticipated increase in traffic due to the reroutes. Also, currently there are no protected left turn lanes in the area — something that city planners might create if traffic volume warrants it.

Bridge removals will occur in phases between now and March 2007. Construction on the bridge replacements will begin in March 2007 and be completed in Spring 2008.

In addition to bridge replacements, the project will also organize traffic merging onto and exiting I-5, I-705, and SR-16.

“We’re taking all that weaving movement and putting it offline before entering the highway,” said Roycroft. “We should see significant operational improvements.”

Several councilmembers applauded the aesthetic and traffic-flow improvements created by the project.

According to DOT engineer Gordon Roycroft, $500,000 has been earmarked for landscaping upgrades.

“The state promised us what happens now won’t be a repeat of 25 years ago, when landscaping was put on the shelf,” said Councilmember Bill Evans. “I think that’s what a lot of citizens want to hear: it’s going to be a greenbelt through the city, and not a concrete ribbon.”

Councilmember Tom Stenger was pleased that DOT would be assuming the costs associated with stormwater management.

“It can’t be emphasized enough that DOT is now building a system there to take care of the long-term capital costs associated with the stormwater system,” said Councilmember Stenger.