WSDOT: New ramps into city center open next weekend

Pierce County drivers next week enter a parallel universe of new freeway lanes and connections that will ease congestion, increase safety – and perhaps cause some initial confusion.
Crews aim to open the ramps and lanes the weekend of Dec. 8-9, weather permitting.
The most dramatic change is the relocation of the northbound I-5 City Center off-ramp, more than one mile to the south. That means the 25,000 drivers who exit here each day need to be ready to exit sooner, just north of 38th Street and prior to the SR 16 curve.
“The real learning curve here is for drivers accessing downtown Tacoma,” said Troy Watts, WSDOT field engineer. “This is a big change for them and we anticipate some of them will miss the new exit at first.”
Other big changes include a mile-long, four-lane northbound collector-distributor roadway between the Tacoma Mall and Tacoma Dome, a new on-ramp to northbound I-5 from 38th Street (Tacoma Mall), and a new connection from eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5.
More than 60,000 vehicles a day move off the regular northbound I-5 lanes and onto the collector-distributor lanes – a shift that cuts in half the daily traffic on this congested stretch of northbound I-5.
These new lanes and connections improve safety and ease congestion by increasing freeway capacity and eliminating the white-knuckle weave between SR 16 drivers moving left to get on I-5 and I-5 drivers moving right to get downtown. These conflicting movements slow down traffic and can contribute to collisions.
Engineers eliminated the weave by relocating the downtown off-ramp one mile to the south and building a new connection from SR 16. These two changes combine to position downtown-exiting traffic to the right of SR 16 merging traffic on the new C-D lanes.
“We’ve essentially eliminated tens of thousands of conflicts a day,” Watts said.
The new on-ramp from 38th Street to northbound I-5 also feeds onto the new C-D lanes and should reduce demand at the 56th Street on-ramp and reduce congestion on northbound I-5 near the Mall.
The I-5 HOV Improvements, 48th Street to Pacific Avenue project, now into its third year, also builds the approach ramp to the new westbound Nalley Valley viaduct, two new bridges over I-5, and creates space for future HOV lanes. The project is scheduled for completion next spring. For more information about this $72.9 million “Nickel” project, visit .