Question: I was excited to see you addressed a concern with merging traffic onto westbound state Route 16, but what about the greater problem going the other direction?
Traffic heading eastbound on SR16 trying to merge onto Interstate 5 north is an absolute nightmare. It appears that four to six lanes of traffic are merging from SR16 and the Tacoma Mall area all into one lane for access to I-5 north.
The backups on SR 16 go all the way back to 19th Street at times. Drivers are increasingly frustrated, weaving in and out of traffic, cutting in at the last moment where SR 16 splits into I-5 north and south.
What is happening? And more importantly, when will this traffic nightmare be resolved?
– Frustrated driver from Gig Harbor
Answer: As with many things in Central Tacoma highway tie-ups, the underlying reason for the eastbound state Route 16 backup is the state’s long-running effort to add HOV lanes – the acronym stands for high-occupancy vehicle, or carpool in plain talk — to Interstate 5 through the city.
And, as is the case with the majority of these situations, don’t expect the fix terribly soon. It’ll be complete in 2017 if all goes right.
The work is complex enough that state Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Adamson used three different metaphors in the course of describing the road-construction balancing act involved.
(For the record: “trying to rebuild your engine while driving your car,” “trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner while you’re remodeling your kitchen” and “trying to paint where you’re standing.”)
This aspect of state Route 16’s troubles stems from the removal/rebuilding of the Pacific Avenue bridge over I-5 to accommodate the HOV lanes. Crews are narrowing the merge into one lane to build foundations for the Pacific bridge and to replace worn sections of highway concrete.
Adamson said Transportation Department officials are aware of the consequences and apologize for them.
“In order to replace the panels, you have to take away the place the people are driving,” Adamson said. “There's just no other way around it.”
The good news: Workers early this month found a way to squeeze a temporary second lane back into the merging road.
The bad news: the word “temporary.” In this case, it means perhaps six months before construction again narrows the stretch to one lane.
Much more information on the project’s progress is on the Transportation Department’s dedicated page at 1.usa.gov/1qDYPS4.
Please wait until you’re through the tie-up and safely parked to read up on it.
Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693