Starting next winter, drivers wanting to access the northern part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord will no longer have to use Interstate 5 or back routes. Instead, they’ll be able to drive a connector road that runs from McChord Field to the main gate, linking the two sides of the sprawling base.
The connector road, stretching less than a mile, will cross railroad tracks and Perimeter Road. It is the first phase of a larger project that base leaders hope will one day allow people to travel from the southernmost portion of the base near Mounts Road to its northernmost border near state Route 512.
Construction started in May and is set to wrap up at the end of January.
JBLM Base Commander Col. Charles Hodges, Jr. estimated that during peak commute times, 300 to 500 drivers a day will stop using the congested stretch of freeway that parallels the base. That doesn’t include trips by family members who travel between the two sides of the base for various services during the day.
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“It’s not going to solve your problem,” he said, “but it’s going to make a dent.”
Hodges gave an update on the project Tuesday to U.S. Congressmen Adam Smith and Denny Heck and Sen. Patty Murray. They took a look at the site where the first set of concrete pillars has gone up.
Deputy Base Commander Col. Anthony Davit said he’s one of the many who will use the new connector road every day. He lives on McChord but has an office on the Army side.
To get between the two sides, Davit said he currently checks traffic on his smart phone to see whether I-5 or a back route will be faster. Either way, Davit has to exit the base through one gate and re-enter through another. Once the two-lane connector road opens, his commute will pass through just one gate.
The $9 million connector road is the first phase of work on an anticipated larger project. The second phase calls for a four-lane highway with a 55-mile per hour speed limit that would loop drivers through the middle section of the base, connecting to services on either end. The second phase is designed but not funded.
Murray said the road is a small part of a solution to address the traffic needs of the growing South Sound region.
The state Department of Transportation has a long-range plan to rebuild four interchanges and widen the freeway along an 11-mile stretch from DuPont to state Route 512 in Lakewood.
Heck said the connector road signifies more than just traffic congestion relief. Four years ago, McChord and Fort Lewis combined operations to become the largest base on the West Coast.
“When this opens, we truly become a joint operating base,” he said.