WSDOT Tacoma-Olympia I-5 project earns industry award

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was awarded the People’s Choice Award for its Operation I-5 Partnership Project in the fourth annual America’s Transportation Awards competition. The award was announced during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Annual Meeting. AASHTO, the Automobile Association of America (AAA), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsor the America’s Transportation Awards competition, which recognizes outstanding transportation projects in three categories: On Time, Under Budget, and Innovative Management. The 10 projects that scored the highest during four regional contests competed for both the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award.

“These projects best demonstrate the wonderful work that state transportation departments are doing all across the country,” said AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley. “In this time of fiscal constraint, it’s important that we recognize some of the numerous projects that finish ahead of schedule, under budget, and use innovative strategies, translating into savings for taxpayers and a better transportation system for moving people and goods.”

AASHTO presented a $10,000 cash prize to WSDOT, which will be used to support the charity or academic scholarship program of its choice.

For years, the traffic between Tacoma and Olympia continued to grow as the economy and population of the South Puget Sound diversified and expanded. But after drivers came to a grinding halt, a coalition of organizations joined forces to creatively solve the traffic snarl that stretched for miles through a military base nestled between the two cities. In 2010, traffic along a 50-year-old stretch of Interstate 5 between Tacoma and Olympia would often grind to a halt despite years of local, state and federal government cooperation aimed at keeping traffic moving. Drivers faced 11-mile backups along the highway that winds through the heavily used Lewis-McChord military base. Working as a coalition of federal, state, military and local leaders, a solution was found. According to Col. Thomas Brittain, US Army commander, “Due to our partnership with WSDOT, and the coordination and hard work of everyone involved in this project, we were able to brainstorm and implement some relatively small fixes that provided almost immediate results.”

Interchanges at military gates were improved with better alignment and better-timed traffic signals; never-before-opened gates were unlocked so military personnel could access the military base; and tools such as Incident Response were quickly deployed to combat the congestion. Each agency’s flexibility and willingness to participate led to the success of this project.

A total of 40 projects from 29 states were entered in this year’s America’s Transportation Awards competition.