New I-5 Federal Way 'fly over' ramp opens

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Monday opened the first of two new elevated fly over ramps between Interstate 5 and State Route 18 in Federal Way. The aptly-named flyover ramps take vehicles directly from one highway to the other — a seamless transition that eliminates merging and lane changing at different speeds. One ramp takes vehicles from westbound SR 18 to southbound I-5, while the other takes vehicles from eastbound SR 18 to northbound I-5.

“This is a very busy interchange with semi-trucks, box trucks, minivans and passenger vehicles all jockeying for position, trying to navigate through signals and then rapidly getting up to freeway speed,” said Aleta Borschowa, WSDOT project engineer. “This new interchange gives drivers enough sight distance and acceleration space to enter the highway safely.”

“The project moves people and commerce,” said Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest, “and that mobility strengthens economic growth and quality of life for Federal Way.”

The second ramp will open July 23. The ramps are opening six months ahead of schedule.

The new ramps are the cornerstone of a $112 million project at the I-5/SR 18/State Route 161 interchange that also rebuilt ramps from eastbound SR 18 to southbound I-5 and ramps to SR 161. Drivers will start using the new ramp from eastbound SR 18 to northbound I-5 on July 23. The ramp from SR 18 to SR 161 is expected to open in October.

The area is a key corridor for Pacific Northwest businesses such as Wild Waves and Weyerhaeuser, and for trucks hauling freight to and from the Kent/Auburn industrial complex to points north, south and west.

“This area has always been a nightmare for us,” said Stan Vander Pol, Peninsula Truck Lines president. “It’s not just one industry. Our truckers haul everything from tires to tables to tea. We all want get on the road and work.”

The contractors played a critical role in the pace of the project. Bellevue-based Northwest Construction kept the project sustainable by limiting the number of trips crews had to make off-site and reusing materials. These crews laid the groundwork for Woodinville-based Mowat Construction to build and open the ramps six months ahead of schedule.

“These ramps went up so fast, commuters told us it was like watching a real-life time lapse,” said Lorena Eng, WSDOT regional administrator.

Though the ramps went up quickly, the financial groundwork was years in the making, according to Rep. Adam Smith (D-Tacoma). Sen. Tracey Eide (D- Federal Way), who helped cut the ribbon at the ramp opening Monday, agreed that the new ramps are a valuable investment for King County drivers. “Not only will these ramps help reduce congestion on I-5, they represent the efforts of a bipartisan collaboration among all levels of government to achieve substantive progress for south King County residents,” Eide said.

This project was paid for by the 2003 and 2005 state gas-tax funding packages and by federal funds.

Future plans for the I-5/SR 18/SR 161 interchange include two new ramps.

A contractor puts finishing touches on the first of two fly over ramps between Interstate 5 and State Route 18 in Federal Way.