Thursday, October 18, 2018

When will the construction in Tacoma end?

By Cara Mitchell

When will it all end? That's the number one question we get about highway construction in Tacoma. It is usually followed with, "You've been building and re-building I-5 at SR 16 for 20 years!"

Yes, it is true. We have been building the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program for close to 20 years. The program is made up of 17 projects that started back in 2000. Each project built the foundation for the next. Fast forward to the end of 2018, and we are down to the final four projects. Two of those are in their final weeks of construction. Yes, you read that correctly - weeks.
Left: 2014 aerial photo of Interstate 5 in Tacoma, before construction. Right: 2018 aerial photo of Interstate 5 in Tacoma, showing a widened I-5, new bridge over I-705, a new Pacific Avenue overpass and new McKinley Way overpass.

In the first two weeks of October, Max J. Kuney Construction, the contractor who is building the East McKinley Way overpass, has put both directions of I-5 into its final configuration within the project limits. The ramp from eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5 now has two lanes for travelers to use instead of one. Not only did this project widen I-5 to make room for HOV lanes, it replaced all the original concrete with a new roadway surface, rebuilt the Pacific Avenue overpass and built a new bridge over I-705. These photos from 2014 and 2018 show the dramatic before and after.

I-5 construction at the Puyallup River
Another project that began in 2015 that is wrapping up is the northbound I-5 HOV project that widened I-5, built a new Puyallup River Bridge and a new ramp to SR 167. Contractor crews working for Hamilton Construction are finishing landscaping, striping, and an improved storm-water system. Travelers will get a few weeks' reprieve before contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction begins work on widening the last section of I-5 in Tacoma and building a new southbound I-5 bridge across the Puyallup River.

The Southbound HOV project is the final funded Tacoma/Pierce County HOV project. Construction is expected to begin in February 2019. In addition to building a new bridge that carries travelers across the Puyallup River, the project will also make the following improvements:
  • Demolishes and replaces the L Street overpass spanning I-5
  • Replaces the existing concrete pavement on I-5 from McKinley Way to Portland Avenue
  • Upgrades signs, lighting, and storm water ponds
  • Demolishes the old northbound and southbound bridges that span the Puyallup River
  • Opens HOV lanes in both directions of I-5 through downtown Tacoma, providing a complete HOV system that extends from SR 16 in Gig Harbor to I-5 north of Seattle

This is a design visualization of the southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge provided
by the design-build contractor, Guy F. Atkinson Construction.

I-5 and SR 16 interchange challenges
For most I-5 travelers, it is hard to see exactly what design-build contractor Skanska is doing at the I-5/SR 16 interchange. Most of their work is taking place west of mainline I-5, out of sight for most travelers. Crews are rebuilding the alignment of southbound I-5. In recent weeks, they installed 30 new bridge girders for new overpasses that will carry new lanes of southbound I-5. Crews are also building new bridges that will connect HOV lanes between SR 16 and I-5. To do this work, this past May all lanes of southbound I-5 were moved into a temporary configuration adjacent to northbound I-5, separated by barrier. Weather permitting, the contractor anticipates that southbound I-5 will be in its permanent alignment in spring 2019.
Crews recently installed 30 bridge girders that will carry new lanes on southbound I-5. This location
shows the new southbound I-5 overpass above the eastbound SR 16 ramp to northbound I-5.

Here is a look at the new eastbound SR 16 HOV ramp to southbound I-5.

We recently announced a delay in the work at the top of the South 38th Street east loop ramp that would allow travelers to go east or west on South 38th Street. The new schedule shows the work occurring in early 2019, after the holidays. The delay won't affect the overall project schedule. Skanska anticipates the project to be complete in mid-2019.

That means a year from now, fingers crossed, there will only be one active HOV construction zone on I-5 in Tacoma.

As always, our best advice is to know your alternate routes and check the construction schedule posted at before you head out the door. Give yourself extra travel time. Also, be sure to use the WSDOT app for current traffic conditions.


Unknown said...

Great News,
Please try to keep the large semi trucks out of the left lanes!!!!

Unknown said...

Maybe finally (but not likely) people will actually maintain their speed over the river i stead of creati g a daily backup like they do currently.

Unknown said...

What exactly is WSDOT planning to do to assist the city with the increased traffic that has flowed to S 38th & Alaska that has resulted in several accidents due to illegal U-Turns? There are at least 2 per week now and with the holiday shopping season upon us, this number will only increase. You owe it to the community to address this. The world does not stop on the borders of your project. You are impacting school zones and bus routes. Children cross this intersection regularly to get too and from school. Cheap, easy fix? Take down the dividers that keep SR-16 from exiting to the mall. They are pointless and people cross them anyway. Last year, they were not there and everything worked just fine. You fixed something that was not broken. You have hundreds of community members that are fed up with all of the accidents.

Unknown said...

As much as many complain of all the construction. It's a pretty amazing, complex, dangerous project. Working on this while it is IN-USE has to take a lot of planning. Keep going and I can't wait until it's all done!

Unknown said...

Next is Tacoma to Olympia correct?Looking forward to the new Hawks Prairie interchange.

Unknown said...

Very early on the morning of October 9th (2:00 am) as we were trying to get on I-5 from 16 we were surprised to see barricades up. We followed the detour signs, or tried to and ended up driving around in Tacoma for 30 minutes. The signage was ridiculous and we weren’t the only ones that morning trying to find our way to I-5. How about trying to have better signage? Thank goodness we left when we did to make our flight.

WSDOT said...

The eastbound SR 16 ramp to northbound I-5 does close during overnight hours for construction. The official signed detour route takes travelers south on I-5 to 56th Street and back to northbound I-5.  We will share your comments with the contractor, as they do drive the detour route to ensure the signage is accurate. WSDOT publishes the latest construction schedule each week at Our best advice is to check this schedule before you leave, and be familiar with alternate routes. The WSDOT app is very useful when checking traffic conditions on any state route.

Unknown said...

The answer to your headline was not posted - when will the construction in Tacoma end? You provided the start dates of the last phases of construction but no end dates.

WSDOT said...

Chad, the construction schedule for the Southbound HOV project shows that traffic will be in its final configuration with HOV lanes open by the end of 2021. This project will begin in February 2019.

Anonymous said...

Now that the rain has started many people cannot see the lanes. With all the work and realignment of lanes it is hard tell where all the lanes go. You have interchanging marks on the highway. I can see accidents increase and causing more frustration for drivers.

Unknown said...

BUT! When are you just going to teach people in this state how to drive. Slow drivers in the left lanes, people dont know how to merge, on and on. Driving is so much more then just getting behind the wheel..

Porter said...

Can we get better signage for the exit to go downtown Tacoma (705) going north? It's very confusing and I don't go that way often and have missed the exit trying to get to 509. If I remember correctly it was highlighting hwy 16 or 38th st. I stayed to the right and finally seen the city center exit, which was a 1 lane exit that was way before getting close to the actual destination from previous route. It's very hard to know how far back to exit when it says your gonna go 1 way and your used to the old exits because you don't use it often. Hope I explained this effectivey.

WSDOT said...

We will ask the contractor to take a look at this. When the northbound I-5 exit 133 to I-705 and SR 7 was closed for construction in early 2017, the detour route took drivers through northbound I-5 exit 132 which is the exit for SR 16 and South 38th Street. When exit 133 re-opened a year ago this month, overhead signs directing drivers to I-705 and SR 7 were uncovered and re-established. Once southbound I-5 is moved on to its final configuration, and the HOV connections are complete, additional signage will be installed.

Unknown said...

Wish I could afford to leave Tacoma. The I5 traffic has made me hate an otherwise ok city. It's a a never-ending disgrace and creates hours of daily hell for us residents.

Excalibur said...

It's so bad, I "upgraded" to Renton, which has its own notoriously bad I405. At least it's not perpetually under construction.

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