Get ready for closures, detours and new lanes on I-5, Route 16 and South 38th Street

This conceptual drawing shows what state Route 16 looking east as it approaches Interstate 5 in Tacoma will look like during a temporary 30-day long reconfiguration starting in mid-October.
This conceptual drawing shows what state Route 16 looking east as it approaches Interstate 5 in Tacoma will look like during a temporary 30-day long reconfiguration starting in mid-October. WSDOT

UPDATE: The projects in this story have been postponed from their original start date in October, according to the state Department of Transportation. Contractor Skanska expects to complete the traffic shifts and modifications in early 2019.


The ever-changing landscape that marries Interstate 5, state Route 16 and South 38th Street in Tacoma once again will go through major changes starting in early 2019.

The construction projects are part of the Tacoma/Pierce County HOV program, which will connect carpool lanes from Route 16 directly onto I-5.

38th Street interchange

Once upon a time, before all the construction began, drivers coming off eastbound Route 16 could exit directly onto westbound South 38th Street via a ramp.

New lane configurations as part of the big construction project currently make that impossible without pulling some dangerous and illegal maneuvering through lane dividers.

DOT hopes to rectify that with a temporary fix.

Beginning sometime in early 2019, the ramp onto eastbound South 38th Street will close for 30 days while crews build a new, but temporary, interchange that will give Route 16 drivers access to westbound 38th Street.

When work on the interchange is complete in mid-November, South 38th Street will have a traffic signal that allows eastbound and westbound access to all drivers.

“The goal is to get the top of the interchange reconfigured for the holiday season,” said Cara Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation. “It’s a little pain for a lot of gain.”

During the closure, southbound I-5 and eastbound Route 16 travelers will be unable to exit onto eastbound South 38th Street. Those drivers can detour to South 56th Street and then travel northbound I-5 back to South 38th Street.

The southbound I-5 exit (132A) to westbound South 38th Street will not be affected during the closure.

The new interchange will remain in place until sometime in 2019 when DOT hopes to allow drivers from Route 16 to exit either direction onto South 38th Street in something akin to the original configuration.

Route 16 HOV lanes go into temporary use

During that same 30 days, drivers will finally get to use Route 16’s HOV lanes — they just won’t be used as carpool lanes for the time being.

Currently, drivers reaching the eastern end of Route 16 split to the left lanes for northbound I-5 traffic and to the right lanes for southbound I-5 traffic.

That reverses as early as 2019 when drivers headed to southbound I-5 will temporarily relocate to the two newly-built Route 16 HOV lanes that are on the far left of eastbound Route 16.

Drivers headed to northbound I-5 will use the far right lanes of Route 16.

The changes will affect drivers on South Sprague Avenue headed to southbound I-5. That entrance high on the overpass in Nalley Valley will be closed temporarily. Drivers will have to head west on Route 16, exit on Union Avenue and then return to eastbound Route 16.

Once the temporary South 38th Street interchange is built and the collector-distributor ramp that exits from Route 16 to southbound I-5 is rebuilt, the Route 16 HOV lanes will be mothballed until other HOV components are completed.

In addition, the ramp from eastbound Route 16 to northbound I-5 that has been only one lane for over six months is scheduled to be returned to two lanes in October.

Closures and detours are posted at

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor