Work will start Monday (Oct. 19) on an Interstate 5 project aimed at improving access to Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
When work wraps on the project next summer an additional lane will carry cars across an upgraded freeway overpass at Berkeley Street in Lakewood’s Tillicum neighborhood.
The project also will add a left turn lane to the freeway’s southbound exit at Berkeley Street.
The improvements are needed, but the timing of the work is unfortunate.
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The 61-year-old overpass that will be improved during the project also is slated for demolition as part of separate plans to improve I-5 through the JBLM corridor.
Grant funding for the overpass project was awarded before the state decided to tear down the bridge, Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield said.
The city received $5.7 million from the Department of Defense for the project in 2011.
It also received $1.6 million from the state to address safety concerns related to the Point Defiance Bypass project, which will bring high-speed trains through the region starting in 2017.
State Department of Transportation officials have been working on plans to improve traffic on I-5 for a few years, but have never had the money to do the work.
That changed this year when the Legislature approved $494 million for a transportation revenue package Gov. Jay Inslee signed in July. An 11.9 cent-a-gallon gas tax increase will fund the package.
Improvements to I-5, including the demolition and reconstruction of three overpasses in the JBLM corridor, are covered by that package.
Work needs to be done now to improve the Berkeley Street overpass, which is why the city and state are continuing with the project, Caulfield said.
“The I-5 JBLM improvements are not expected to be completed in the next five or six years,” he said. “In the meantime, we have major safety and congestion issues at the intersection.”
That includes concerns about the high-speed passenger trains expected to use the railroad tracks that block Tillicum drivers from getting to the freeway.
When the state builds the new overpass to the south of the existing bridge it will rise above the railroad. Until then cars will have to wait at signals while trains speed by at 80 miles per hour.
Sue Rothwell, owner of Galloping Gertie’s Restaurant, said she is trying to look at the situation with a “glass-is-half-full” attitude.
Rothwell’s restaurant at Union Avenue and Berkeley Street is directly affected by improvements to the interchange.
“If they had closed the entire bridge for three months, I’d be going, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Rothwell said. “But the fact that they still have to get to Madigan, and they still have to get to Camp Murray sometimes, makes me feel like we’ll get through it.”
Rothwell said the timing of the bridge work was unfortunate, but added she understands why the city and state are continuing even though the bridge’s days are numbered.
“You need to do something in the meantime because it’s just going to get worse,” she said.
The first phase of the Berkeley Street project started last year when a left turn lane was added to southbound Union Avenue at its intersection with Berkeley Street.
The city also added a curbed median on Union Avenue to prohibit left turns. This was done to limit vehicles queuing on Berkeley Street near its intersection with the railroad, Caulfield said.
“We don’t want vehicles backing up and getting caught on the railroad tracks,” he said.
The work slated for Monday will focus on the overpass. The state has planned for most of the work to be done during the night to lessen the effect on drivers.
The road will be reduced to one lane at night up to 20 times — 10 nights northbound and 10 nights southbound, according to the state.
Drivers also can expect narrowed lanes and shifted alignments in both directions of I-5 and Berkeley Street.
More information on the Interstate 5 project is available on the state Department of Transportation website at 1.usa.gov/1GiiAvD.