I-5 construction through Pierce County begins next month

Drivers traveling one of Washington’s busiest highways should see the familiar orange fences of highway construction in late July, but most likely will not feel the traffic squeeze until Spring 2006.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) accepted Kiewit Pacific Co. of Renton’s $72.9 million bid to construct safety and mobility improvements on the segment of I-5 from South 48th Street to Pacific Avenue.

More than 200,000 drivers pass through Tacoma on I-5 each weekday. In 2002, the Washington State Legislature approved the nickel gas tax funding package that included the $102 million improvement to the stretch of highway. The funding includes design, contract administration, environmental assessment, mitigation and construction.

“We anticipate they will be out on the highway’s shoulders in late July,” said Howard Diep, project engineer.

“In the immediate future, the traffic impacts will be minimal, as the contractor begins clearing the shoulder area and other off-roadway work,” he said.
Diep noted WSDOT will maintain the current number of lanes through the construction zone during peak commute hours, however lane widths will be reduced and shoulder area will be eliminated.

The current construction schedule calls for only minor traffic impacts through 2005, with the majority of the impacts beginning in spring 2006.

Weekly traffic reports will be available on WSDOT’s Web site at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/regions/olympic/construction.

Safety concerns and traffic congestion led WSDOT to prioritize this segment of I-5 in Pierce County. Those who travel between SR 16 and I-705 experience this congestion due to the ‘weaving’ movements created by vehicles merging from SR 16 and then exiting to I-705/downtown Tacoma.

A new multi-lane, northbound collector/distributor road will include a new northbound exit to I-705, and improved merge from SR 16.

To accommodate HOV lanes and wider shoulders, plus improve to traffic flow on city streets, WSDOT will also rebuild the Yakima Avenue and Delin Street bridges that span over I-5, plus remove both the Tacoma Street Bridge and 36th Street pedestrian bridge.

Noise mitigation will be addressed by constructing two noise barriers at two elementary schools within the project area and the third noise barrier will be constructed atop a cantilever wall to mitigate for noise impacts to an adjacent neighborhood between 48th Street and 38th Street.

Through a partnership forged with the city of Tacoma, a number of walls and noise barriers will incorporate a custom art design contributed by an artist hired by the City of Tacoma.

The SR 16 project is just one of 22 projects that comprise the Tacoma/Pierce County Core HOV Program. The 2003 Legislative Transportation Funding package included $373 million for the projects while the 2005 Legislature added $425 million.

Through these series of projects, the entire Tacoma I-5 corridor will be widened for an additional lane and wider shoulders in each direction from State Route (SR) 512 to the Port of Tacoma Road to make room for future HOV lanes.

WSDOT broke ground on the first of the nickel projects in Spring 2004, the addition of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and other major improvements on State Route 16 between I-5 and Gig Harbor. State Route 16 Corridor completion remains scheduled for Spring 2007, to coincide with opening of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

As these projects will significantly impact traffic through Pierce County, WSDOT want to hear your thoughts and opinions. Project designers are currently visiting local groups to offer an overview of the projects. WSDOT is available to visit your group by calling Alice Fiman at (360) 357-2703.