New ramp meters, traffic cameras coming for I-5 Tacoma, Olympia commuters

Three new ramp meters, seven new cameras and updated travel times between Olympia and Tacoma will help improve the commutes...

Three new ramp meters, seven new cameras and updated travel times between Olympia and Tacoma will help improve the commutes for about 130,000 daily drivers who use Interstate 5 between Nisqually and Joint Base Lewis-McChord each day, according to Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials.

Ramp-meter testing will occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Weds., March 7. The ramp meters, as well as new traffic cameras will be up and running on Mon., March 12.

New cameras will provide motorists even more options to check traffic conditions and plan ahead before traveling on I-5 between Lacey and Lakewood. Adding meters will help manage traffic flow on this congested section of I-5 in Thurston and Pierce counties.

Ramp meters use a stop-and-go signal system to control how frequently vehicles enter I-5 from adjoining on-ramps. WSDOT has found this system helps reduce the potential for collisions while decreasing travel times through congested areas.

Stopping cars before they enter the freeway helps traffic flow, said Kevin Dayton, WSDOT regional administrator.

“Right now, it’s like having two gears trying to turn together, but the teeth don’t quite match up,” Dayton said. “As a result, neither moves the way it should. Ramp meters help line these teeth up, reducing friction between cars entering from ramps and traffic already moving along I-5.”

The new ramp meters, located at the northbound I-5 on-ramps at Marvin, Nisqually and Mounts Road, provide a proactive way to prevent the onset of congestion. WSDOT will monitor these interchanges daily and activate the ramp meters as needed during peak travel times. Engineers will be able to control the pace of the ramp meters when congestion fluctuates in the corridor.

Because fluctuations in traffic are unpredictable, ramp meters may not be used every day.

Dayton warns this is not a complete solution to the northbound I-5 congestion problem.

“These new meters will help manage traffic flows on northbound I-5, but motorists shouldn’t expect all backups to disappear on this section of the mainline,” said Dayton. “These tools will reduce daily congestion, but will not solve major backups that occur on summer Sundays or when a collision blocks multiple lanes.”

Seven cameras located along the 11-mile stretch between Marvin Road in Lacey and Berkeley Street in Lakewood will provide motorists a way to view traffic conditions before they head out onto the roadway. Single cameras will be located at Marvin Road, Mounts Road, Center Drive, DuPont/Steilacoom Road and a location just north of DuPont. Two cameras will provide views of congested area near the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Main Gate.

“These cameras will give a new perspective on what is happening on this stretch of I-5, and help drivers make informed decisions before they get in their cars,” Dayton said. “They’ll also provide first responders a visual overview when a collision or incident occurs in these areas.”

The WSDOT Travel Alerts pages for Olympia and Tacoma will also offer travel times for Olympia to Tacoma commuters.

These new traffic tools were part of a $1 million project to help improve traffic on this crucial section of I-5, and more improvements are on the way.

WSDOT received a $15 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery III Grant in December 2011 that will help fund additional improvements for this section of the I-5 corridor. Those improvements include widening highway shoulders to allow vehicles to drive on them between on- and off-ramps during peak commute hours, more ramp meters and new signals.

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