Tuesday, June 15, 2021

New southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opening to one lane of traffic soon!

By Cara Mitchell

Believe it. It's really happening. This month, as part of an upcoming traffic shift, we will open one brand spanking new travel lane on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

Why is one lane important? It means we're just a couple months away from shifting all southbound lanes on to the new seismically upgraded bridge. It also means the 20-plus years of widening I-5 and SR 16 to build and connect HOV lanes is almost over. Yes, we know that's a long time. Building new bridges to widen I-5 while keeping lanes open during peak commute hours is kind of like remodeling your kitchen while trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for three football teams, all at the same time.

Before we can honk horns and toss hard hats into the air in celebration, there's work to be done and traffic shifts to pay attention to. Here's what's coming up that travelers need to know about.

June traffic shift

Since June 2019, southbound I-5 drivers using exit 135 to Portland Avenue, Bay Street or northbound SR 167 have used what we call a temporary collector-distributor lane. This temporary lane was operating on the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge so we could provide access from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5 and access to exit 135 while the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge was being built.

This coming weekend, June 18-20 – weather permitting - crews will close ramps and shift this temporary collector-distributor lane on to the new southbound I-5 bridge.

From 11:59 p.m. Friday, June 18 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 20, the following will close around-the-clock:
  • Southbound I-5 exit 135 to Portland Avenue, northbound SR 167 and Bay Street
  • Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5
  • Southbound I-5 temporary collector-distributor lane

A look at how the temporary collector-distributor lane will shift onto
the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

During the around-the-clock closure, crews will reconfigure and rebuild both ramps so that they are accessible from the lane now coming across the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. Once the two ramps and collector-distributor lane reopen, drivers will be on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
The new temporary configuration for southbound I-5 exit 135 along with the temporary
collector-distributor lane rejoining mainline I-5.

Detour for southbound I-5 exit 135

Detour routes will be clearly signed during the weekend closure. With the collector-distributor lane closed, drivers exiting to Portland Avenue or SR 167 will use southbound I-5 to northbound I-705 to SR 509, and return back to southbound I-705 to northbound I-5 and exit at Portland Avenue. Drivers using the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 will detour to northbound I-5 to exit 137 for SR 99 North, and 54th Avenue East and back to southbound I-5.
Here are the detour routes for the upcoming weekend closure of southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge ramps and lane.

Why are we doing this?

Crews are shifting the temporary lane onto the new bridge to prepare for work demolishing the old southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
A Beam Moving System is being assembled to help remove the old girders from above the
Puyallup River on the old I-5 Puyallup River Bridges.

There is still work taking place on the new Puyallup River Bridge such as drainage, electrical and final pavement markings. The travel lane will be set up to provide crews the room they need to put the final touches on the bridge. We did something similar in 2018 when the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge opened to traffic in stages as final work was completed.

What happens next?

Earlier we mentioned we were almost done with the project, and we really are. Here is a snapshot of the "honey-do" list to finish our kitchen remodel:
  • Remove the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • In August, crews will finish realigning the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. This work may require a 15-day closure of the ramp.
  • Finish the median barrier on I-5, south of the Puyallup River Bridge. This also ties into advancing work on the East L Street Bridge.
  • Later this year, all southbound I-5 travel lanes will move permanently from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We will need to restripe northbound lanes across the bridge to bring everything into final configuration.
  • The icing on the cake will be getting new HOV lanes open. That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma. That is scheduled for fall 2021.
About the new bridge...

We thought you might enjoy seeing some footage taken while crews built the bridge deck on the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. The numbers that make up the size of this bridge are impressive – 84 girders, 1.3 million pounds of reinforced steel, and lots of concrete.
Stay aware

As always, please keep our crews, yourself, anfe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know these traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so stay aware and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room soA they can get this work done safely.