Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Survival guide to Tacoma weekend lane closures

By Cara Mitchell

Anyone who travels on southbound I-5 through Tacoma knows how congested the freeway can get with four lanes available to drivers. Imagine what would happen if there were only two lanes.

This weekend, you won’t have to imagine, and we know, it’s going to be rough.

Drivers should expect extra congestion on I-5 in Tacoma this weekend due to extensive paving work.

What’s going to be closed?
Let’s start with I-5. Southbound I-5 in Tacoma near Portland Avenue will be reduced to two lanes around the clock from 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 through 5 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29. About 100,000 drivers use this portion of southbound I-5 every day and a large percentage of those vehicles will need to find other ways to travel around the area in order to avoid major backups and delays. The weekend-long lane closure will allow the contractor working on the I-5 M Street to Portland Avenue HOV project to replace nearly 1,200 feet of aging concrete on southbound I-5.

But that’s not all. During the same weekend, State Route 16 will be reduced to two lanes in each direction at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge for paving. Lane reductions on eastbound SR 16 will occur in phases starting at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26. The two westbound SR 16 lanes will be detoured onto the eastbound bridge. That shift will also occur in phases starting at 8 p.m. Friday. The speed limit will be temporarily reduced at the bridge from 60 mph to 35 mph.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge will be reduced to two lanes in each direction this weekend for paving.

The 24th Street on-ramp to eastbound SR 16 and the westbound SR 16 exit to 24th Street will also be closed, and the Jackson Street on-ramp to westbound SR 16 may also need to be closed. The ramps will be closed at 7 p.m. Friday.

All lanes and ramps will reopen by 5 a.m. Monday.  The same closures on SR 16 will occur again over the weekend of Sept. 9-12 with similar hours.

In order to repave the eastbound SR 16 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, crews will reduce the number of eastbound lanes available to traffic during overnight hours between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting Monday, Aug. 29 through Thursday, Sept. 1. The westbound bridge will be open to westbound traffic during that time.

Why schedule these closures the same weekend as the JBLM Airshow, the LeMay Car Show and the Tacoma half-marathon?
There’s never a good time for major closures like this, and planning them is a big challenge. We make every effort to avoid as many huge travel weekends as we can, including holidays, and try to avoid big events whenever possible. But we have to balance that with needs of a particular job – dry weather, for example – as well as working around other projects.

Every construction contract has different obligations attached to them. We would have preferred the work on I-5 to occur the weekend of Aug. 19-22 but I-5 through Tacoma was the detour for the full closure of State Route 167 near Pacific that weekend. We also need dry weather to pave and stripe. As we start to push into September, our dry weather days quickly evaporate.  This wasn’t our first choice, but it’s the hand we were dealt. That’s why we are advising drivers to add as much extra time as possible to your trips, go early, and consider eliminating discretionary travel. We love our regional events just as much as you. Go enjoy the air show, fly a kite at Chambers, or cheer on the Sounders in Portland. Be sure to plan extra time into your trip and take an alternative route if you know it. If you haven’t tried carpooling, taking the Sounder Train yet, or riding the bus, now might be a great time.

Pierce Transit is providing bus transportation to the JBLM Airshow from Lakewood Towne Center, the Lakewood Sounder Station or the Tacoma Dome Transit Station. Visit http://www.piercetransit.org/jblm-air-show-express/ for details.

How can drivers get around Tacoma and avoid backups
We recognize that there are some major events in the area this weekend and we understand both projects will have significant traffic impacts. We are encouraging drivers to…
  • Allow extra time to reach their destination. 
  • Consider delaying or rescheduling discretionary trips. 
  • Travel early in the morning before 9 a.m. or later in the evening after 9 p.m. 
  • Use alternate routes. 
  • Choose an alternative travel mode, such as public transportation (transit, ferry, light rail or commuter rail), bicycling or carpooling.

Taking a ferry is one of many alternate ways around this weekend’s Pierce
County work, but be sure to plan ahead if you want to sail.

Taking a ferry
If you plan on taking the scenic route via a Washington State Ferry to avoid the Tacoma slowdown, expect increased traffic on south end ferry routes. Customers are advised go early or late and avoid midday and afternoon sailings on Seattle/Bremerton and Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth routes. Additional travel tips for the ferry system are:
  • If detouring: take early sailings, before 10 a.m. or late sailings after 7 p.m. 
  • Ferries expects wait times of up to three hours during the day and into the early evening on summer weekends, especially for the next two weekends as folks squeeze the last drops out of their summer vacations. 
  • Don’t miss the boat! Plan to arrive at the dock 30-45 minutes before the scheduled sailing because it could take time for people in line to process through the tollbooth. If taking a midday or afternoon ferry, expect wait times of 1-3 hours. 
  • South end ferry routes to use as a detour: Seattle to Bremerton, Fauntleroy to Vashon then Tahlequah to Point Defiance; Fauntleroy to Southworth. Please note that the Point Defiance/Tahlequah route saw long wait times during the pervious air show and we expect similar wait times this year.
  • There is no wait for walk-ons! If it works for you, consider walking on the ferry or riding a bicycle and connecting with transit or a ride from a friend on the other side. 
  • Route map 
  • Seattle/Bremerton 
  • Fauntleroy/Southworth
  • Fauntleroy/Vashon 

Will tolls be collected on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge during construction closures?
Tolls will still be collected for drivers traveling eastbound on SR 16 as normal. Drivers travelling westbound will not be charged tolls. We must ensure that Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls are generating enough revenue to cover our debt payments. This is achieved by applying tolls fairly and consistently. We do not waive or refund tolls due to collisions, special events, or construction. Similar to a homeowner who needs to make mortgage payments every month no matter what, we must make debt payments to bondholders to pay for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

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