Question: The state Department of Transportation’s multimillion-dollar makeover of the Interstate 5-state Route 16 interchange in Nalley Valley created a dangerous, three-way interweaving condition between Sprague and Union avenues.
Drivers entering westbound Route 16 from I-5 who want to exit at Union Avenue are forced to jockey for position with drivers merging onto Route 16 from Sprague Avenue.
The situation has been like that since the day the new interchange opened, and the state apparently is doing nothing to improve it, despite many accidents.
It seems the state’s approach is to move on to new projects without fixing problems with the recently completed ones.
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Any chance you can get some traction with the state to at least acknowledge this is a bad design that needs fixing?
— John Conkle, University Place
Answer: For what it’s worth, the Transportation Department acknowledges the situation and admits the design is “not ideal.”
As for fixing it, don’t hold your breath.
“The congestion your reader sees is the result of traffic merging that occurs between two interchanges located too close to each other,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker.
“Many years ago, when the Union Avenue interchange was built, it was meant to replace the Sprague interchange,” she said.
“However, by the time the Union interchange was built, people were accustomed to using the Sprague interchange and the powers-that-be (city officials, politicians, etc.) were not keen on permanently closing the Sprague ramps.
“Thus the decision was made to keep both the Sprague and Union interchanges operational.”
There’s some limited cause for optimism, but relief is years away.
“Starting around 2017, we’ll build the third and final improvement project in the I-5/SR 16 interchange,” Bingham Baker said. “In that project, we’ll build an HOV viaduct with direct-access HOV ramps connecting I-5 HOV lanes and SR 16 HOV lanes.
“When the project is complete in 2020, the merge at Union will still be there,” Bingham Baker said, “but at least HOV traffic will be on its own facility and out of the way.”