Thursday, April 16, 2015

Relief in the works for eastbound SR 16 drivers in Tacoma

By Doug Adamson

We promise. It will get better.

Soon after the eastbound State Route 16 project wrapped up in Tacoma last summer, drivers were treated to a much easier commute over the Nalley Valley and onto Interstate 5. It was welcome relief after years of congestion followed by years of construction. However, regular free-flowing traffic to northbound I-5 was short-lived. That's because shortly after finishing construction in Nalley Valley, crews kicked off work on an adjoining project called I-5 - M Street to Portland Avenue - HOV.

In that project, we are building future HOV lanes on I-5 through Tacoma. The work also involves replacing the original surface of I-5. To replace the surface, crews have created an I-5 traffic island. Workers have been hard at work in the island – that's closed to traffic – removing beaten down concrete and replacing it with brand new concrete. Once the island work is complete, we'll move traffic onto the new concrete. Crews will then continue replacing concrete elsewhere in the job.

Inside a construction island on northbound I-5 in Tacoma workers have removed the original roadway surface, dating back to the 1960's. The work involves grinding down below the original surface and replacing it with a much more reliable and smooth surface.

We are very aware of how this traffic island has led to recurring backups from eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5. Delays are magnified if anything out of the ordinary occurs, like a collision or a disabled vehicle. The good news is that this traffic configuration is temporary. Once the lanes are in their final configuration, you'll enjoy a much less congested drive.

Our challenge is to keep traffic moving while at the same time, giving I-5 its largest overhaul in Tacoma in decades. We're taking on that challenge, albeit with the request of patience and tolerance from the traveling public.

Decades of heavy use and weather have taken a toll on the original surface of I-5 in Tacoma. Here’s the extent crews have dug into I-5 to replace the original surface and conduct rehabilitation work.

Over the last few years, drivers have watched us build pieces of a much larger puzzle. A giant piece of the puzzle was the addition of the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which greatly enhanced travel along westbound and eastbound SR 16. We added HOV lanes on SR 16, and now we're adding the capacity for I-5 HOV lanes in Tacoma. The most recent focus is two projects that will add capacity to I-5 from M Street, over the Puyallup River, and into Fife. In the next few years, we'll also launch the last of three projects over the Nalley Valley. That's where workers will build HOV lanes and HOV ramps between I-5 and SR 16.

This is all fine and good, but I'm sick of traffic
I would be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys sitting in traffic. But there are a lot of things each of us can do to help alleviate traffic backups.

For example, check out our driver tools. Drivers can get information from their phones via the WSDOT mobile app. Additional information is available from WSDOT email alerts and Twitter.

Consider using alternate forms of transportation to get around. Public Transportation agencies can help by connecting you with carpools, vanpools or transit.

Do you have the option of working a flex schedule? That's a great way to avoid the morning and afternoon peak crush hours.

There are other ways you can help. Should you get into fender bender, move your car to the shoulder. Better yet, avoid the fender bender in the first place by giving yourself plenty of room between you and the vehicle in front of you.


Tim said...

Good work WSDOT!

Jay Davis said...

Does this puzzle include. 3rd Northbound Hwy 16 Lane from the Narrows to Purdy exit?

WSDOT said...

There are long-term plans to build an HOV lane in each direction in that area. At this time, no funding has been identified.

Ted said...

When will this nightmare merge be fixed? You should make the traffic engineer who designed this temporary merge sit through it some morning from Union Ave! I understand that with progress comes some pain but really WSDOT there must be a better way!

WSDOT said...

Ted, we apologize for the inconvenience, as we do everything we can to keep traffic moving through construction zones. It’s difficult in the best of times to build new highway facilities with live traffic just feet away, and we are very aware of the congestion it causes. Unfortunately the area at I-5 and SR 16 is tight, and it’s going to get tighter. The tight merge is now even more evident after crews relocated northbound I-5 lanes closer to it. Moving I-5 lanes onto new pavement frees up old pavement to be removed and replaced. It’s time-consuming, difficult work and we appreciate your patience. We also want to be straightforward with you - that merge will remain tight for the next two years.

Anonymous said...

TWO. YEARS. Seriously - the 16/I5 merge mess at the T-Dome is going to take two years to resolve?

I appreciate the improvements - I really do. I also appreciate the hard work of the crews out there, but two years is a VERY long time to add an extra 30-40 minutes to my commute - either sitting there burning gas, or trying to drive around it.

And, yes, I do take the bus a few times a week. But, here's the bad news - Buses get stuck in that merge, too!

The other thing is, between the traffic mess and the ever-increasing tolls on the bridge, it will be a wonder if anyone remains living in Gig Harbor after all this.

Norene Beaver said...

TWO YEARS????? OMG - You have just reduced me to tears - literally! I drive this area twice a day! I have adjusted my work hours trying to stay out of the major commute time but at 10am it's still backed up to Union and coming SB at 8pm at night it's still backed up to Fife! I have gone through years of commuting the horrible single Narrows bridge mess - I appreciate the new bridge and pay the rising toll bill which is ridiculous but I pay it - what choice do I have - but it moves smoothly and for that I am grateful! I survived the new interchange mess and thought with the new interchange my commuting nightmares were finally over - now this??? And SB you have cut off the brand new onramps approach to WB SR16 for no reason which causes even more back ups SB!!! (Nothing is in those coned off areas!) I agree with Ted! Whoever designed all of these traffic changes should have to sit in this traffic mess they have created day in and day out - at ALL HOURS! And like Ted, I appreciate the improvements as well but it's unreasonable to take four lanes down to 1 for two years and to think it's okay! I have learned to wind through Tacoma to avoid most of it but wow - that is challenging as well! Just so very frustrating - I think I may have to take a transfer and uproot my kids and move because this construction is taking my already 15 hour commute to 20 hours a week! Unbelievable.

Chris said...

Can we get some clarity on "that merge will remain tight for the next two years"? I understand a tight merge, especially during construction. The reduction to one lane is extremely painful, though. Will SR16E to I5N remain restricted to one lane during this time, or can we expect to return to a two lane "tight merge" at some point?

WSDOT said...

We’re looking closely at the roadway features (geometrics) at the merge to see if we can temporarily squeeze in a second lane. Even if we can, next spring construction activities will be even tighter, requiring the one-lane merge.

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