Thursday, September 21, 2017

Remodeling I-5 requires patience and creativity

By Cara Mitchell

Anyone who has ever remodeled a home knows that the process requires a lot of time, extreme patience and advanced planning. Adding an extra room or two can mean shifting of furniture, plumbing or moving windows and doors. Cooking a meal without a kitchen sink, stove or counter tops takes some creativity. That is very similar to what is happening in Tacoma, where contractor crews are adding HOV lanes, building new bridges, and remodeling the lanes and ramps to Interstate 5. Maneuvering around the ramp closures requires patience, creativity and planning ahead. The good news is huge progress is being made.

What is finished, and what is ahead
This summer, we moved traffic on to the new northbound I-5 bridge that spans I-705 and State Route 7 in Tacoma. Crews also temporarily split southbound I-5 into two roadways. This effort created workspace for crews to rebuild southbound I-5 and the associated ramps.
Left: Crews are now advancing work on Pier 2 of the new McKinley Street overpass.
Right: Crews are grooving the deck of the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge to allow storm water to efficiently drain.

This September, crews successfully re-aligned the southbound I-5 ramp to East 26th Street and the I-705 ramp to southbound I-5. We also closed the southbound I-5 ramp to SR 7 to build permanent retention ponds, install drainage and electrical components, and to rebuild the ramp to match the new alignment of I-5. This closure also gives crews workzone access to begin drilling the shafts for Pier 2 on the new McKinley Street overpass. This is the final long-term ramp closure for this particular project, and it will be in place through fall of 2017. During the closure, drivers who use the SR 7 ramp will be detoured using northbound I-705, the SR 509 interchange and southbound I-705.

Two ramps – the A Street on-ramp to I-705 and the SR 7 ramp to southbound I-5 – are expected to re-open to traffic this fall. Both ramps closed early in the project due to temporary configurations of adjacent ramps leading to southbound I-5.

New northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opens to ramp traffic
A new phase of construction will move ramp traffic on to the brand-spanking-new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge in October 2017, weather permitting. The new 1,569 foot-long bridge, built to current seismic standards, is straighter than the existing I-5 Puyallup River bridges. Crews also rebuilt and realigned the northbound I-5 ramps for 28th Street and SR 167. As early as the weekend of Oct. 13, a new 28th Street ramp to northbound I-5 will open to traffic. Drivers who use this new ramp will cross the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge prior to merging with mainline I-5 traffic.

In addition, northbound I-5 drivers heading to the Port of Tacoma Road (exit #136B) and East 20th Street (exit #136A) will exit mainline I-5 south of the river and over the new Puyallup River Bridge to reach the interchange. Drivers will need to exit approximately a half mile south of the current exit. Crews will implement this change over the same weekend.

Once the ramp traffic is on the new bridge, crews will begin building lanes to match the new alignment of northbound I-5 leading up to the new bridge. If weather cooperates, all northbound I-5 traffic could be using the new bridge as soon as spring 2018.

One year: Three new bridges
For many commuters driving on I-5 through endless construction, it is hard to see the progress crews are making. Here is an important fact to consider: before the end of the year, crews on three projects covering seven miles of I-5 through Tacoma will have finished building THREE new northbound I-5 bridges.

The third bridge that is rapidly nearing completion is located at the interchange of SR 16 and I-5. Crews building direct-connect HOV lanes between the two highways are on schedule to move northbound I-5 traffic on to its new alignment and over a new bridge that spans the eastbound SR 16 ramp by Nov. 15. 
Left: Progress is being made on the new northbound I-5 bridge near SR 16. The bridge is expected to open to traffic by Nov. 15. Right: The ramp approach to the new northbound I-5 bridge spanning the Puyallup River is being built. The new bridge is 1,569 feet long and the deck is comprised of 6,788 cubic yards of concrete. Traffic will be shifted onto the bridge this fall.

After three years of announcing temporary ramp or lane closures, it is a great feeling to announce to drivers the opening of ramps, lanes and bridges. It is a sign that our three active HOV projects are moving towards completion. Before you break out into a happy dance, there is still one more funded HOV project to go. Construction on the I-5 – Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project is expected to begin in 2018. The project will build a new southbound I-5 bridge across the Puyallup River. The construction schedule and staging for this project will determine when the HOV lanes will open to traffic.

The Tacoma/Pierce County HOV program is a $1.6 billion investment that spanned 17 projects over 20 years. We are down to the final four projects. As always, we appreciate your patience while we remodel I-5 in Tacoma to help ease congestion. To stay on top of weekly overnight ramp and lane closures, please visit


Erik Griswold said...

$1.6 Billion (with a "B") so as to move the traffic jam just a little down the road. Think of how much more rail capacity that could have created at the Port of Tacoma to allow nearly-truck free operation there.

mike stathos said...

The information along with the photographs is excellent. Keep up the good work

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