Monday, April 29, 2019

Where were you when construction started on I-5 and SR 16 in Tacoma? Hint: Think back to the year 2000.

By Cara Mitchell

A lot can happen in 19 years. In 2000, the world didn’t end with Y2K. The iPhone didn’t exist. When the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV program began, approximately 178,000 vehicles each day traveled across the Puyallup River on I-5; today that number is 208,000. Over the years, from one project to the next, with the ebb and flow of project funding, we have widened I-5 and rebuilt overpasses with the goal of bringing HOV lanes to an area that continues to see huge surges in population. Thankfully, just as kids born in the early 2000s prepare for graduation, we are getting ready to welcome the completed project to the real world and your real commute.

The final class schedule

The last piece of this complex puzzle is a little something we refer to as the I-5/Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project. Say that five times fast.

In addition to building a new bridge that carries travelers on southbound I-5 across the Puyallup River, the project will also:
  • Demolish and replace the L Street overpass spanning I-5
  • Replace the existing concrete pavement on I-5 from McKinley Way to Portland Avenue
  • Upgrade signs, lighting, driver information systems, and storm water ponds
  • Demolish the old northbound and southbound bridges that span the Puyallup River
  • Open transit and carpool lanes in both directions of I-5 through Tacoma, providing a complete HOV system that extends from SR 16 in Gig Harbor to I-5 into Seattle
First semester: L Street Overpass

Construction began last month with the closure and demolition of the L Street overpass. This work is necessary so crews can widen I-5 beneath it. This overpass will be back in operation late fall 2021, complete with one 11-foot lane in each direction, bike lanes in both directions, and wider sidewalks.

Second semester: The traffic shift

This coming May, all southbound I-5 lanes of traffic will shift onto the recently completed new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This bridge was built wide enough to accommodate both northbound and southbound I-5 traffic. In addition to shifting all southbound lanes into a temporary configuration, Port of Tacoma Road drivers headed to southbound I-5 will still use a single lane of the old bridge and re-join southbound I-5 near Portland Avenue. Drivers exiting to Bay Street and SR 167 will need to follow new signs to reach exit 135 using the old southbound bridge. We created a video that describes what lanes travelers need to be in so they can reach their destinations.
To put this traffic shift into place, crews will implement overnight lane closures. This traffic shift will stay in place until the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge is in operation in 2021.

Study group session: Which bridge is what?

For those tracking at home, we currently have three bridges over the Puyallup River. In 2018, the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic. As we said earlier, this new bridge was intentionally built wider to accommodate all (northbound and southbound) lanes of traffic to allow construction of the new southbound bridge.

The new southbound bridge will be built adjacent to the new northbound bridge. Once the new southbound bridge is complete, the old bridges will be removed.

Our yearbook quote: Eyes up, Drive slow

For the next 2½ years, as you travel through this area of Tacoma you can expect to see:
  • Decreased speed limits through Tacoma. For the safety of drivers and crews alike, speed limits have been lowered to 50 miles per hour through this part of I-5.
  • Narrowed and shifted lanes and ramps on I-5
  • Removal and rebuilding of the L Street overpass spanning I-5
  • Overnight lane and ramp closures
  • Occasional weekend ramp closures and extended closures of the following ramps:
    • Southbound I-5 exit to Bay Street
    • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 
    • Northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue 
    • SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5
Watching the progress of construction work can be fascinating for some. No matter how cool you think a bridge demolition or concrete curing may be, please keep your eyes on the road in front of you. Driving responsibly prevents unnecessary roadway closures, construction delays, and keeps our crews safe. We’ll be sure to post behind the scenes videos and photos on social media. Follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts, and visit the project website for the latest project updates!

When do we toss our caps?

The I-5 Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project completion date is fall 2021. The orange barrels, cones and temporary barriers will come up, and you will be driving on a wider I-5. The number of southbound lanes will increase from four to five which includes four general purpose lanes and one HOV lane. Final configuration of northbound I-5 will add an additional lane at Pacific Avenue, an extra lane between the I-705 on-ramp and the Portland Avenue exit, and one HOV lane. Once this project is complete, buses, soccer teams, and all of your high-occupancy trips will zoom up HOV lanes that span from Gig Harbor on State Route 16 to I-5 north into Seattle and points beyond.

To find the most up-to-date closure information during construction, visit

Design visualization from Atkinson Construction shows the new northbound and southbound I-5 bridges across the Puyallup River.


Unknown said...

It appears in the design visualization that the southbound bridge will have no shoulders. Is this correct? Does WSDOT intend to build a brand new bridge on the mainline of I5 with no shoulder? Is it WSDOT's intent to construct over 1/3 of a mile of new highway at a location with an ADT of 208,000 without any space for a disabled vehicle to pull off the road and without extra maneuvering room to avoid collisions? If this is the case, I would like to ask, has any other new structure been built on the I5 corridor in the last 2 decades without a shoulder, or is this bridge in Tacoma unique in that regard?

Unknown said...

Seems like it has been under construction since 1971 when the Nalley Valley Viaduct opened and they still had pickle barrels in the valley. I can't wait for it to be finished.

Unknown said...

This traffic shift is premature at this time.
1. Finish the L St demolition. You were in a big rush to close L St and demolish the bridge and the demolition still isn't finished. Build the new north and south LST bridge abutments.
2. Do the widening of the NB right side from 705 to the SR 167 exit.
3 Demolish the old NB bridge.
4. Start the new SB bridge on the Fife side. When this new construction reaches the Tacoma side of the river do your traffic shift.
5. Wait at least until Tacoma finishes their Puyallup River bridge project. Think about the motorists first!!!!!!!
6. If this is not possible, how about an expanded, detailed blog explaining the necessity of doing this traffic shift at this time.

WSDOT said...

The traffic shift, weather permitting, will begin shortly after Memorial Day. It will occur in a two-stage approach, first with lanes of northbound I-5 shifting to the left. Southbound lanes by Port of Tacoma Road will shift into their temporary configuration shortly thereafter. Once northbound I-5 traffic near L Street is shifted to the left, the last remaining section of the old L Street overpass will be removed, and work to widen I-5 at this location will begin. Work on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge is already underway with pier shaft fabrication.

What you're suggesting would require significantly more traffic switches to complete other scopes of work on the project. For the traveling public, there is a big benefit of having just one traffic switch versus multiple. Anytime contractors have to switch traffic, they have to re-stripe lanes, repave sections of I-5 or ramps, and readjust barrier. It’s weather sensitive work and can easily lengthen a project if crews experience weather delays.

According to their website, the City of Tacoma's Puyallup River Bridge project is expected to finish in July.

Doyourjobright said...

How about this. Hire more people to get this job done in a more realistic timeline. Im so frustrated trying to go to and from the Port of Tacoma to University Place. What was a 11 min. commute is now 30 min. Hire enough people to get the job done instead of making sure you have enough work for yourselfs for the next 20 years.

Unknown said...

How about a blog with a step by step construction order spelled out. Something like this: Step one, moving NB traffic to the left around L St. Step two finish demolishing L St. Step 3 cut back the hillside and build a soil nail retaining wall, etc, etc, etc. I am sure many of the travelling public would like to see a more detailed explanation. My examples are very simple. I would like to see something like that but with more detail. Thanks

Bob said...

You signs on SR 16 East were all screwed up on Sunday Aug 11. The 1st 2 temp signs said stay left for SB I-5, then when you got up to the Valley the big overhead sign showed stay LEFT for I5 South Bound. It's kind of hard to go from the far right lane to the left lane in traffic when you're pulling a 5th wheal trailer.

WSDOT said...

Bob, the signs are correct. Drivers on eastbound SR 16 have to stay left to catch southbound I-5. This has been a temporary configuration since April, and there are multiple signs on eastbound SR 16 notifying drivers of this temporary change. The contractor is working to move this ramp connection back to final alignment very soon.

Michael Waters said...

Given the seeming endlessness of roadwork and traffic jams on I-5 N/S around the T-Dome, I'm wondering if WDOT is handling matters correctly. Maybe they're doing the best job humanly possible under the circumstances, but then again, who knows?

I'd like some assurance that we're getting our money's worth.

To whom is WDOT accountable other than to itself?

Would more manpower applied to the projects speed things up?

Would ounces of prevention in years past have reduced the current chaos in which I-5 is virtually useless at key times?


Ergo, audit and investigate WDOT!

Unknown said...

All I can say is something must be done to fix the merging issue @ I-5 SB coming from Tacoma 705....It has become a clusterf*#$ with people quickly getting over to the far right to get onto highway 16 or 38th st. exit...right when we're merging onto the freeway. Maybe the signs can be pushed back so there isn't such a rush to merge to 16 westbound right where Tacoma drivers are getting onto I-5 SB. Hopefully this improvement is still yet to come, because it's ridiculous the way it is right now. Some days the backup adds 10 min to my commute because of the issue w/ merging. Definitely a frustration and not the best way to start the day.

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment