Maybe you were thinking that freeway traffic through Tacoma couldn’t get any worse.
Oh boy, were you wrong.
On Wednesday, crews working for the state Department of Transportation intend to close one lane of eastbound state Route 16 where it merges onto northbound Interstate 5.
That particular merge, as people who drive it regularly know, already is a choke point. Reducing the eastbound lanes of state Route 16 there by 50 percent could make it ugly, ugly, ugly.
“SR16 backups are expected,” the Transportation Department said last week in what some folks might consider an understatement.
The lane restriction is necessary so crews can lay down concrete as part of the approach to a bridge they’re building to carry northbound I-5 over Interstate 705, said Brenden Clarke, a Transportation Department project engineer.
The job will entail pouring nearly half a mile of new roadway, Clarke said, and is expected to last until early spring 2017.
“It’s a pretty significant area of freeway reconstruction,” he said.
Drivers might want to take alternate routes or consider using a department-recommended detour.
That detour entails exiting onto southbound state Route 7 and then using East 38th Street to loop back to northbound state Route 7, which connects back to northbound I-5 near the Tacoma Dome.
“This alternate route could save time for people headed either north of Tacoma on I-5 or to downtown Tacoma,” the Transportation Department stated on its website.
Clarke said the beginning of the work depends on the weather, as does the completion date.
The work is part of an overarching project to resurface I-5 through Tacoma and expand the width of the freeway to eventually build car-pool lanes.
The job’s been underway for about 18 months.
“Trying to accommodate 197,000 vehicles a day while building the most substantial overhaul of Interstate 5 in Tacoma since the highway was first opened in the 1960s is, to put it mildly, a challenge,” the Transportation Department said on its website. “Anyone who has maneuvered through traffic between 38th Street and the Tacoma Dome knows that there isn't much room for contractors to work in.”
Starting Wednesday, there will be less room to drive in, too.
“Commuters have experienced this particular lane reduction before (summer 2015), and it wasn't fun,” according to the Transportation Department. “We know there will be backups and delays, especially during the morning and afternoon peak commute hours.”
The department offered its gratitude to congestion-weary Tacoma drivers.
“Again, we extend our thanks to drivers who’ve continued to be patient while we build HOV lanes through Tacoma,” the agency stated. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. Every day, together, we are one step closer to reaching that goal.”