Thursday, November 21, 2019

HOV connections open at I-5 and SR 16 in Tacoma

By Cara Mitchell

UPDATE: Saturday, Nov. 23

All of the HOV connected lanes at Interstate 5 and State Route 16 in Tacoma are now open.
It's time. We're thrilled to announce that design-builder Skanska has started opening the new high-occupancy-vehicle lanes at the Interstate 5 and State Route 16 interchange in Tacoma.

This morning, Thursday, Nov. 21, the contractor opened the southbound I-5 HOV lane to westbound SR 16 HOV. Over the next few days, the contractor will finish striping and installing barrier on the remaining HOV connections. Based on their schedule and weather permitting, we anticipate opening the remaining HOV connections on Saturday, Nov. 23:
  • Eastbound SR 16 HOV to northbound and southbound I-5 HOV
  • Northbound I-5 HOV to westbound SR 16 HOV
If weather delays the opening of the remaining HOV connections on Nov. 23, the next target date is Dec. 6.
This photo shows where the lane of eastbound SR 16 HOV splits to either northbound I-5 HOV
(to the left) or to southbound I-5 (to the right).

Once these HOV ramp connections are open, vanpools, busses and carpool users can merge into the southbound or northbound I-5 HOV lane on the left side of the interstate, and use the dedicated HOV ramps to westbound SR 16.

Keep in mind, there is no access to South Sprague Avenue or Union Avenue from the SR 16 HOV lanes. Carpoolers traveling on I-5 to SR 16 to South Sprague or Union Avenue will need to use the same exit to SR 16 that they always have. If you're in a carpool traveling on I-5 headed to Fircrest, Point Defiance or Gig Harbor, you can take the westbound SR 16 HOV exits.

As always this time of year, weather may impact the timeline. We will provide updates on if the schedules change drastically. This will also be where to found all closure and detour info for Pierce County projects.

In case you missed it, make sure to see our video that shows drivers how the HOV connections work, and what to remember when you're using them.
As a reminder, when the HOV connections open at the I-5 and SR 16 interchange, travelers who use the northbound I-5 HOV lane will temporarily merge into mainline traffic near the Yakima Avenue overpass. This temporary configuration will remain in place until the southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge project is complete, in late 2021. At that time, the entire HOV system will be open, with HOV lanes extending from Gig Harbor on SR 16, onto I-5 through Tacoma and Fife and continuing through King County.

If it fits your commute, now might be a good time to consider forming a new vanpool or carpool. has all the help you need to take advantage of the new HOV connections in Tacoma.

With 11 years and three construction projects in the rear-view mirror, we along with you are grateful that on-going construction at this massive interchange, our Nalley Valley viaduct, is nearing completion. To the 200,000 travelers that use this interchange every day, your patience through all of this has been greatly appreciated.

As we near the end of this construction, we continue to ask travelers to watch speeds in work zones and give construction crews the room they need to finish this important project.


mattguss said...

What a joke and debacle this entire DOT project has been. ELEVEN years of congestion with virtually no benefit to drivers. The entire original 90 miles of I-5 interstate from Olympia to Everett was built in only 8 years yet the DOT is so proud of this twisted up mess that took 11 years and all the incompetent planning at their disposal. Proud? They should be ashamed. But our government and the incompetent DOT has no shame. Only vast expenditures and glacial paced projects.

Tom said...

mattguss--I completely agree. I've lived here my whole life and I just don't understand why it costs so much and takes so long. I feel we all pay greatly into the funds that are set aside for roadwork maintenance and improvement, yet by the look of it, it seems as if we don't pay nearly enough. As more people keep moving here and the population keeps growing it will only get worse. And the traffic sure doesn't seem to slow anyone down from moving here so maybe most people are okay with it.

WSDOT said...

For point of reference, in 1960, the average daily traffic volumes at the I-5 and South 38th Street interchange in Tacoma was 21,600. In 2008 that number was 185,000 and today is closer to 200,000.

On Thursday afternoon, our traffic engineers saw a noticeable decrease in congestion with having the southbound I-5 HOV lane open at SR 16. That is an immediate benefit to drivers. While we can’t control the number of people moving to Pierce County, we are committed to completing these important projects that add much needed capacity to Tacoma and Pierce County. We can’t close I-5 for a year to replace and add to the infrastructure. The highway and bridges have to be expanded, maintained and sometimes replaced while keeping traffic moving – all 200,000 vehicles.

WSDOT said...

The funding for each of these projects is located on the project web pages. The final HOV project that builds a new southbound I-5 bridge across the Puyallup River is funded through the 2005 Gas Tax (TPA). You can find more information about the 2005 Transportation Partnership Program on the following web page:

If interested, you can find historical annual traffic reports on this web page:

Unknown said...

Not sure where 11 years is coming from. This mess has been going on for the past 20 years and the planning began 7 years before that and all it's done is move the choke point from the curve near Nalley Valley to right next to City Center exit.

WSDOT said...

In the video we explain how it took 11 years and three projects to widen the Nalley Valley viaduct. You’re correct that the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV project has been a 20 year effort, comprised of 14 projects, each one setting the stage for the next. Additional capacity is being added to northbound I-5 between City Center and Portland Avenue in the Southbound HOV project. That project is anticipated to wrap up at the end of 2021.

spoonfulofpeter said...

So impressed by the improved communication of WSDOT over the past years. The videos and blog updates are really useful. Anyone who has ever worked on a construction project could understand why a project of this scale would take as long as it did. Looking forward to 2021 to see how traffic is improved through the 705 and sr16 interchanges.

Surely the first two commenters here bought the bridge Tim Eyman was selling, and at the same time want to complain about transportation in our state.

Keep on keepin' on, WSDOT.

Unknown said...

This morning the backup on Highway 16 was so bad it was leading all the way near the 6th ave entrance. I went to work on 11/22/19 when the lanes were the same and the HOV lane cut to all traffic after the curve and this morning I suddenly can't use this lane. I saw no signs, no warning this was happening.

This would be a great ramp if it was free to all to us. HOV causes me traffic in same places then it helps.

StevePa said...

Thanks for the update! It'll make it easier to see the grandchildren!

Unknown said...

Adding the HOV lane to hwy 16 made my morning commute worse. Try getting out there at 630 in the morning and then tell me how much better it is.

WSDOT said...

There has been an eastbound HOV lane on SR 16 across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to Center Street since 2007. WSDOT only recently completed the HOV lane to I-5 from the vicinity of Union Avenue. No general purpose lanes were removed. There are some issues with the ramp meters in the eastbound direction that we are addressing.

Johnny said...

The new HOV lanes on SR 16 have definitely made traffic worse. Not sure if it will improve in time when more people use the HOV lanes (which is probably the point of them), but I for one can't car pool. So I hope WSDOT keeps our (single driver) commute in mind as well. My commute on 16 is from home to the P&R to catch a bus, so I'm not evil.

Willo said...

I'm confused, where do we get in the hov lane from I5 to H16? The sign says don't cross double lines and my mum tells me it's double line really quick. the bit of single solid line ends so abruptly. disabled (me) and senior (Mum) citizens

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