Goliath Berkeley Street overpass rises to dwarf ‘Freedom Bridge’

Huge new freeway overpass at JBLM is just part of a much bigger project

Intestate 5 lane additions and two new freeway overpasses highlight a 10-year, $495 million dollar Washington Department of Transportation traffic-improvement project.
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Intestate 5 lane additions and two new freeway overpasses highlight a 10-year, $495 million dollar Washington Department of Transportation traffic-improvement project.

There soon will be a taller, wider and longer Freedom Bridge to wave flags from over Interstate 5 in Lakewood.

The Berkeley Street overpass is being replaced by a behemoth that hulks over its predecessor.

It’s part of the state Department of Transportation’s $495 million project to widen and improve I-5 from Mounts Road to Thorne Lane — through the heart of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. One new traffic lane — general purpose, not HOV — will be added in each direction.

Both current overpasses at Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane date to the 1960s when I-5 was built and will be obsolete when the extra lanes are added to the freeway.

Weather permitting, traffic should be moving over the new Berkeley Street overpass by the end of year, WSDOT spokeswoman Cara Mitchell said. Construction will get under way on the Thorne Lane overpass later this year.

The new Berkeley overpass differs from the current version in several ways:

It will have four lanes for traffic. The current overpass is three traffic lanes with two narrow sidewalks.

It will have a 14-foot wide shared-use path for bikes and pedestrians.

It will span nearby railroad tracks, negating the current at-grade crossing.

Because the new overpass will be at least 14-feet taller than the current one, the freeway which currently dips under Berkeley Street will be raised to be level with the surrounding landscape.

That dip is currently below the area’s water table. Since the construction of I-5, a pump has continually drained the dip to keep it from flooding.

The new overpass also will be known as the Freedom Bridge, Mitchell said.

State lawmakers took up Lakewood resident Richard Rabisa’s quest to name it in honor of the U.S. military in 2006.

Rabisa argued that thousands of active-duty soldiers and National Guardsmen cross the Berkeley Avenue overpass in their comings and goings to Madigan Army Medical Center and Camp Murray. It’s also a place where military supporters gather to wave flags, hang ribbons and hold candlelight vigils.

Drivers currently passing through the project can see two abutments and three sets of piers which will raise the bridge over I-5 and the railroad tracks.

Passenger trains have yet to return to the Point Defiance Bypass — the tracks along the west side of the freeway — following the Dec. 18, 2017 derailment. That won’t happen until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its investigation into the crash which killed three people, according to WSDOT spokeswoman Janet Matkin.

Girders for the Berkeley Street overpass will be put into place in mid-April. Construction will occur overnight and require traffic to be diverted off the freeway and back on at Berkeley Street, Mitchell said.

The most recent traffic counts (from 2017) show 136,000 vehicles using I-5 at Berkeley Street per day, according to WSDOT statistics.

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Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.