Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Major milestone ahead: All lanes of southbound I-5 traffic shift onto new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge

Update: April 1, 2022

On Friday, April 1, all southbound travel lanes were moved onto the new 1,579-foot-long southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. In the weeks ahead, crews will remove temporary barrier and restripe the northbound I-5 travel lanes across from East McKinley Way to Port of Tacoma Road into their final configuration. Drivers will see overnight lane and ramp closures as this work progresses.

By Cara Mitchell

For almost three years, both directions of Interstate 5 over the Puyallup River have been using one new bridge. A temporary traffic shift placed both northbound and southbound I-5 travelers on the same bridge, separated by barrier. This allowed us to keep traffic moving while the contractor removed the old Puyallup River bridges. It also created space to build a new southbound bridge.

A 2019 aerial photo shows northbound and southbound I-5 traffic temporarily sharing the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge. The old bridges, to the right, were used for staging equipment and eventually removed. One lane on the old southbound bridge stayed open for access
from Port of Tacoma Road and the exit to Bay Street.

Since the new bridge is complete, northbound and southbound I-5 lanes will soon be on their own respective bridges.

What drivers need to know

In the coming weeks, crews will move all lanes of southbound I-5 to the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

  • It won't happen in one night, and the work to get this into place is weather dependent.
  • Commuters will notice the lane shift happening in a gradual way, over a few nights. Our crews will stripe a portion of the highway on the south-end of the project and move farther north each night as weather allows.
  • Striping or painting lines on a highway is highly weather dependent which means this will take place over three or four non-consecutive dry nights.
  • To safely get this striping completed, crews are reducing traffic to one lane overnight in the area they are striping.
  • Nearby ramps will also close overnight.

How many lanes southbound?

One question we are asked a lot is how many lanes will the new southbound I-5 bridge have?

  • Four general purpose lanes (currently there are three)
  • One auxiliary lane (from Port of Tacoma Road on-ramp to Portland Avenue off-ramp)
  • One southbound HOV lane that will open later this summer.

Once traffic is shifted to the new southbound bridge, the four general purpose lanes and the auxiliary lane will open.

The HOV lane, as we mentioned, will stay closed until this summer. Crews need that lane for a work zone by East L Street to complete barrier and drainage work. There is also additional striping that must happen before the HOV lane can open.

In the coming weeks, northbound and southbound I-5 will be back on their own
dedicated bridges that span the Puyallup River.

Northbound I-5 across the Puyallup River

Once the three southbound lanes are moved off the existing northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge, crews can begin removing the temporary barrier and restriping the northbound lanes. This will bring back wider lanes and shoulders plus an additional northbound lane. Here is a breakdown of lanes northbound:

  • Four general purpose lanes starting from I-705 and across the bridge (currently there are three).
  • Two new auxiliary lanes from I-705 to Portland Avenue and the exit to State Route 167.
  • An add-lane across the bridge from East 28th Street – currently in place.
  • HOV lane that will open later this summer.

Work to open these lanes in their final configuration will require overnight lane and ramp closures. We will share that information once the schedule becomes available.

What's next?

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

  • Complete the East L Street Bridge
  • Some paving, drainage, and barrier work
  • Work at 27th and 28th streets to rebuild the intersections with East L Street
  • Finish removal of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge structures
  • Excavation to rebuild natural habitat
  • Landscaping
  • Final striping and permanent lane markings
  • 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 this summer. 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.

Weather will be the biggest factor in completing the remaining work. Our contractor and crews are moving as quickly and safely as possible to build lasting infrastructure.

Stay aware

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 so slow down and stay aware so our crews can get this work done safely.