I-5 southbound shift will snarl traffic temporarily, separate lanes for months

Getting around the messy I-5 construction

A construction update on upcoming temporary I-5 lane shifts.
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A construction update on upcoming temporary I-5 lane shifts.

The agonies of living through the expansion of Interstate 5 through Tacoma will shift into a new variety of torment for South Sound drivers shortly after Independence Day.

First, some glimmers of progress: The northbound drive, still beset by weekend lane closures in the Kent area, emerges from a key construction phase that week. Starting the morning of July 6, drivers on that side of the freeway will experience a new bridge and road when they cross state Route 7/I-705. As an added bonus, the oft-jammed on-ramp from Route 16 onto northbound I-5 will return to two lanes.

The happy news ends there.

Shortly after the new northbound bridge comes online, the southbound drive is scheduled to take a series of traffic-clogging turns.

During the weekend of July 7-10, crews will close a one-third mile stretch of the left lane near the Tacoma Dome. The closure will go into effect at 11 p.m. that Friday and last until 5 a.m. the following Monday.

“This will likely create big backups coming out of King County,” state Department of Transportation officials predicted in an online description of the closure.

Backups likely will be similar to those drivers currently experience because of the closed right lane on southbound I-5 between the ramps for Route 167 and I-705, DOT spokeswoman Cara Mitchell said.

That weekend lane closure will give work crews space to rebuild the highway’s center median in advance of yet another realignment. Southbound I-5 through Tacoma will be divided into what DOT calls “two distinct roadways” separated by traffic barriers through the end of 2017.

The three lanes left of the barrier will be for cars headed to Lakewood and point farther south; the two lanes on the right will be for cars bound for the exits to Route 7, I-705, Route16 and South 38th Street. The division, according to DOT, will give workers space for construction on both the McKinley Street overpass and the outside lanes of southbound I-5.

In the DOT web posting describing the project, the agency cautions that the split-freeway alignment could extend into 2018 if bad weather delays the work.

Already, the agency has announced one definite traffic tie-up drivers should expect in 2018.

The on-ramp from Route 16 onto I-5 northbound will regain what the DOT called “the dreaded single-lane ramp” from January until June or so. Eventually, the ramp will reach its final form of two permanent lanes, Mitchell said.

“Keep in mind, we have another winter to get through, and the last two winters have been some of the wettest on record,” she said via email.

Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693, @dcnunnally