Monday, August 16, 2021

Final months of I-5 construction in Tacoma: Temporary changes needed for Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 starting Aug. 23

Update: September 16, 2021
The traffic shift scheduled for overnight Friday, Sept. 17 is postponed due to rain in forecast. The traffic shift will be rescheduled at a later date.

Update: September 15, 2021
The late summer traffic shift on southbound I-5 near Portland Avenue in Tacoma is scheduled to occur, weather permitting, overnight Friday, Sept. 17. To shift the lanes, the contractor will need to close several ramps and lanes overnight. Once the lanes reopen Saturday morning, Sept. 18, drivers near Portland Avenue will see southbound lanes shifted towards the right shoulder of the interstate. If weather delays this work on Friday night, the traffic shift will be rescheduled for the next available dry weather day.


By Cara Mitchell

"Are you done yet?"

That is the million-dollar question we've been answering this summer about construction on I-5 in Tacoma to create HOV lanes. It's very similar to the "are we there yet" question from the backseat of the car on family road trips.

Simply put, "no, we're not there yet."  But we are close.

While the "to do" list on this project is getting shorter, starting Monday, Aug. 23, we have a 15-day closure for the Port of Tacoma Road ramp to southbound I-5 that drivers will want to plan for.

In June, we had a weekend closure of the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp that allowed us to move one lane of southbound traffic to the new Puyallup River Bridge and temporarily realigned the ramps to connect with the new bridge. This month, crews are finalizing the Port of Tacoma on-ramp to southbound I-5 to ensure it smoothly connects to the new bridge.

Crews installing pipe as part of a storm drainage system at the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5. The temporary on-ramp will close for 15 days in mid- to late-August for final work.

Prep work for an extended ramp closure
In the days leading up to the closure, crews are installing about 300 feet of pipe along the Port of Tacoma on-ramp as part of a storm drainage system. They're also building a new wall that will be part of the final on-ramp. This wall is made from lightweight natural volcanic material that is less dense and because of utilities under the roadway, necessary at this ramp. This will better help distribute weight across the soft, squishy dirt in the area.  

Once this work is complete, the 15-day ramp closure can start.

Lava rock being used in part of the new Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5

August 23: Port of Tacoma on-ramp to southbound I-5 closure begins
At 12:01 a.m. Monday, Aug. 23, crews will close the Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to southbound I-5 for up to 15 days. This around-the-clock closure allows us to replace the temporary on-ramp with a wider, paved ramp. Crews will also install barriers and electronic systems that allow us to monitor traffic flow along the ramp, which is heavily used by the freight industry. If the closure date changes, we will let you know via our email updates for state highway construction in Pierce County.

Detour route
During the closure, drivers who normally use 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. Signs will mark the detour route.

When the closure is complete, travelers will have a smoother transition on a wider ramp from the Port of Tacoma Road to southbound I-5. The new on-ramp will have two general purpose lanes and one shoulder lane that can be used as an HOV bypass lane when the project is complete.

Late summer traffic shift south of the new Puyallup River Bridge
One more important thing to be aware of in the coming weeks: another traffic shift. This upcoming traffic shift is needed before southbound traffic is permanently moved onto the new, more seismically sound and wider southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. We don't have a specific date yet but expect this shift to take place in early September. We will announce dates when we have them.

During the shift, workers plan to move all southbound I-5 lanes of traffic south of the Puyallup River Bridge towards the right shoulder. This will let us re-establish a work zone between southbound and northbound I-5. This shift is expected to be in place through fall.

Why do we need this shift?
Moving travel lanes to the right shoulder of southbound I-5 opens up a work zone to resume construction on the East L Street Bridge. We will build the center bridge pier, then place the backbone of the new bridge, called girders, on top of the piers. There are still several steps to finalize, but the new bridge could open by the end of this year.

With travel lanes moved away from the median, crews will also build a new permanent median barrier. Our contractor, Atkinson Construction, will use an updated high-performance design, making the new barrier taller and sturdier than previous ones. Crews will embed 20-foot-long sections of barrier beneath the roadway, making the new median barrier less likely to be pushed into oncoming traffic after being hit during a vehicle collision.

What happens next?
While our checklist is shrinking, there are still a few final pieces needed to complete this puzzle.

  • Finish removal of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • Move all southbound I-5 travel lanes from the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge onto the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.
  • Excavation to rebuild natural habitat
  • And the grand finale – opening the new HOV lanes on both directions of I-5! That will involve new striping on I-5 from the Fife curve to the Yakima Street overpass in Tacoma, scheduled for late 2021. This means you'll be able to use the HOV lane from Gig Harbor on SR 16 all the way to King County without merging.

Stay aware
Summertime means lots of construction activities along the I-5 corridor and throughout the region. As always, please keep our crews, yourself and others safe by driving cautiously through work zones. We know detour routes and traffic shifts can take a little getting used to at first, so slow down, stay aware, and make sure you give construction crews plenty of room so they can get this work done safely.