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