Driving Portland Avenue under I-5 in Tacoma can be dangerous. A fix is coming, WSDOT says

Q: Is the City of Tacoma or state Department of Transportation going to do something to fix that funky mess where Portland Avenue passes under Interstate 5 by the Emerald Queen Casino? — Eileen H.

A: The short answer is yes, there are plans to improve that section of street.

Before we expound upon those plans, let us set the scene for those of you who have not had the misfortune to traverse that particular piece of pavement.

Portland Avenue runs north-south along the eastern side of T-town. The spot Eileen asks about, between East 27th and 28th streets, provides access to northbound Interstate 5.

For southbound Portland Avenue traffic, two left-turn lanes serve those seeking the freeway. Trouble is, those lanes make an abrupt jog to the east right under I-5 that not everyone sees coming.

We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters have witnessed a number of near misses there where someone driving in the inside left-turn lane doesn’t make the proper adjustment to stay in their designated lane and drifts into the adjacent lane, prompting hard braking, blaring horns and the occasional single-finger salute from folks unintentionally being cut off.

In Eileen’s case, that scenario turned into a direct hit from a semi.

“The trucker who was in the far left-hand lane had no idea that his lane off-set to the left,” she wrote us. “He continued straight and collided with me in my lane of travel.

“The trucker also came out of the bright sun and into the shade under I-5, which didn’t help, either.”

Eileen asked us to send along her concerns to the city and WSDOT and to ask if anything was in the works to make that drive a little safer.

WSDOT spokesperson Cara Mitchell says there is.

“The design-build contractor constructing the new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge will be building new 10-foot sidewalks behind the Portland Avenue bridge columns next summer,” Mitchell told us. “This will improve capacity and safety for pedestrians at this location.

“By moving the sidewalks behind the columns, additional roadway width will become available to allow the existing left-turn pockets to extend all the way between the two intersections. This new roadway configuration will provide additional capacity for travelers turning left.”

No new signs are planned, Mitchell said, but the contractor “will be freshening the existing pavement markings.”

“I don’t have a time frame on when that work will occur, but it will likely be sometime this fall, and not during wet weather,” she said.

Tacoma road crews also have plans on Portland Avenue to “refresh existing striping this fall as part of the annual roadway striping contract,” according to Stacy Ellifritt, who speaks for the city.

Adam Lynn is the local news editor and writes the Traffic Q&A column for The News Tribune. He has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years, most of it in Washington state.