Friday, August 26, 2022

I-5 HOV construction in Tacoma is really done. …no really. …it is!

By Cara Mitchell

Fade in scene:

Marty and Doc from back to the future, with text overlay that says Marty, I just got back from 2022 and they're done with I-5 construction in Tacoma

Yes Doc, it’s true. We’re wrapping up major construction on I-5 in Tacoma.

This morning, Friday, Aug. 26, we opened a new section of the southbound HOV lane on I-5 from the Port of Tacoma Road, connecting to the westbound SR 16 HOV lane. Tonight, crews will remove temporary barrier on northbound I-5 and open the northbound HOV lane from the SR 16 interchange, across the Puyallup River into King County.

This weekend, crews will restripe southbound I-5 from the King County line to the Port of Tacoma Road to finish opening the new southbound HOV lane. The work is scheduled for Saturday night. Striping is weather sensitive work and could be rescheduled if it rains.

Nighttime drivers will see lane closures on I-5. Please pay attention in work zones and don’t drive distracted or speed. Keeping crews safe is our top priority, and that involves all of us. We need everyone’s help getting this 22-year effort wrapped up. Opening the HOV lanes is a huge milestone. Like you, we are glad that construction is wrapping up.

Treat yourself like I-5 and never stop working on yourself no matter how inconvenient it is for everyone else

We know, it took a long time. Transportation engineers knew years ago that the Puget Sound HOV Program had to expand south into Pierce County. To build HOV lanes on I-5, SR 16 and SR 167 meant we had to widen those highways without shutting them down.

We required contractors to keep three lanes open during peak commute hours, throughout construction. This helped commuters get to work, school or make that important doctor visit. That meant a lot of work happened at night when traffic volumes were lower. Here are some quick milestones to keep in mind:

  • The first project that expanded I-5 for HOV lanes finished in 2001 at the I-5 and South 38th Street interchange.
  • In 2007 the first HOV lanes opened on SR 16.
  • Three years later, we opened the first HOV lane on I-5 in Pierce County in Fife.

After those milestones were accomplished, we rebuilt the I-5/SR 16 Nalley Valley interchange in three projects, expanded I-5 across I-705 and rebuilt both spans of the Puyallup River Bridge in three projects. Every one of those projects had very little room for crews to stage construction in. Drivers started to see endless shifted lanes and temporary new configurations. Have you ever tried remodeling the kitchen while cooking Thanksgiving dinner? It gets interesting with the sink, oven and microwave relocated to the living room. Yet dinner is finally ready.

Each phase of construction set the stage for the next. In addition to building HOV lanes, we also rebuilt bridges to meet current seismic standards, helped the environment by improving storm water treatment ponds and drainage systems, replaced the original asphalt and concrete roadway on I-5, updated new electronic traffic devices and added new travel cameras.

To recap this massive lift, we created a video that captures the history of I-5 in Tacoma and Fife, and the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program.

New East L Street Bridge opens

On Aug. 19, following a 3-year closure, we were delighted to open the new East L Street bridge in Tacoma. The new 363-foot-long bridge was built to current seismic standards and has 11-foot-wide lanes. We included a six-foot-wide multipurpose lane for people who walk and roll. The original East L Street bridge was built in 1963.

Throughout the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV Program, seven overpasses were removed and six were rebuilt, to accommodate HOV lanes on I-5 through Tacoma. The list of overpasses rebuilt include:

  • South 38th Street
  • South Yakima Avenue
  • Delin Street
  • Pacific Avenue
  • East McKinley Way
  • East L Street

All of these structures were built to current seismic standards and provide full width roadways and sidewalks.

The one overpass not rebuilt was Tacoma Avenue. Its proximity to Delin Street allowed us to combine the two streets into one overpass that was constructed from 2007 to 2008.

The evolution of the Puyallup River bridge, with the original in 2007. The center picture shows the new northbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge and on the right is the new northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge.

So HOV Lanes are open. Now what?

Opening HOV lanes on I-5 in Tacoma really signals the end of major construction on the interstate. Our contractor still has a few things to finish before we can toss the hard hats in the air. This includes:

  • Levee fortification along the Puyallup River
  • Removing old bridge piers from the old I-5 bridges
  • Completing the public art installation on East 28th Street
  • Work to add dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5
  • Landscaping and river habitat restoration
  • Rebuild the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5

As we’ve done before, we will keep you posted on all this work via the project website. The project is expected to reach substantial completion this fall.

Safety, always a priority

We said this earlier, but it is worth repeating. On any state highway in our state, we ask that you keep our crews safe when you’re driving through a work zone. Please pay attention to the road in front of you and don’t drive distracted. We want all our road crews to go home safely at the end of their shifts.