Decade-old HOV project in Tacoma about to enter home stretch
The end is near for the HOV and Interstate 5 realignment project through Tacoma.
That’s what the state Department of Transportation is promising with this week’s re-opening of ramps and rebuilt I-5 lanes.
The Thursday and Saturday construction work will impact evening drivers and comes a week after a failed attempt last Saturday.
“We tried to do all of that in one night, Saturday night, last week,” WSDOT spokeswoman Cara Mitchell said.
Weather and an errant driver who crashed into a work zone nixed that try.
“There was no way they could get the work done,” she said.
Contractor Skanska and WSDOT changed plans for the retry, breaking the work up in to two nights.
The I-5 / SR 16 Realignment – HOV Structure and Connections project began in February 2017. In the ensuing months, traffic has been diverted, detoured and delayed. But this weekend, the hard part is over, the transportation folks said.
Drivers may have noticed newly planted trees in the moonscape that has existed for the past 29 months around the I-5/Route 16 interchange. That’s usually a sign a project is close to finishing.
Usually, major construction shifts and closings happen late at night and into the morning. But on Thursday, the action begins early. Crews need the extra time, Mitchell said.
At 8 p.m., a single lane on southbound I-5 will be closed from the McKinley Way overpass to South 48th Street.
At 9 p.m., a second lane will close. Two open lanes will remain at McKinley but decrease to one lane near the Route 16 exit, which will be closed.
At the same time, the southbound I-5 exits (132A and B) to South 38th Street will close until 6 a.m. Friday. The Route 16 exit also will be closed until 6 a.m.
Also at 9 p.m., the collector-distributor lane that feeds the Pacific Avenue, Interstate 705 and state Route 7 on-ramps to southbound I-5, Route 16 and South 38th Street will be reduced to a single lane.
Drivers headed to the city center and southbound I-5 drivers going to Route 16 or South 38th Street will have to follow a detour that will take them on to South 56th Street and then back onto northbound I-5.
At 9 p.m., drivers on Pacific Avenue, I-705 and Route 7 headed to southbound I-5 will detour to Route 16. Drivers can exit at Union Avenue and return to eastbound Route 16 then back to southbound I-5. The detour will be in effect until 4 a.m. Friday.
At 6 a.m. Friday, all lanes closed Thursday night will reopen.
Also opening Friday are several ramps that have been closed or under construction since spring. Those include:
▪ The South Sprague Avenue on-ramp to southbound I-5.
▪ A new eastbound Route 16 ramp to southbound I-5. That ramp will exit from the right lanes of Route 16 as the previous one did rather than the current and temporary configuration using the left lanes.
▪ A new South 38th Street exit from I-5 and Route 16. That exit will be completely dedicated to leaving the freeway and will no longer offer lanes that reconnect with southbound I-5.
Both of those exits from Route 16 (to southbound I-5 and South 38th Street) will begin as three side-by-side lanes. The left lane will exit to I-5, the right lane will exit to South 38th Street and the middle lane will be driver’s choice. That choice will have to be made before crossing under 38th Street.
“We think it’s going to be a big benefit for drivers,” Mitchell said. The zipper merge, which some used and some didn’t as they entered I-5, will be gone.
For over a year, crews have been rebuilding southbound I-5 travel lanes. Traffic using temporary southbound lanes will shift over to the new, permanent lanes on Saturday.
Starting at 10 p.m. Saturday, southbound I-5 will be reduced to a single lane from the South Yakima Avenue overpass to South 48th Street. Work wrap ups at 10 a.m.
In the same period, southbound I-5 exits to Route 16 and South 38th Street will close. Drivers will be detoured to South 56th Street for a U-turn.
City center drivers entering southbound I-5 will detour to Route 16.
Lanes will be reopened as striping is completed.
Some stretches of northbound and southbound I-5 will be separated by tall dirt berms planted with trees.
The new lanes begin at the I-705 interchange, roughly in the area of M Street, and merge back on to the old roadway at South 48th Street.
The new lanes pass over a newly constructed, wider and realigned bridge over Route 16 which has a more gradual curve than its predecessor.
Crews replaced all the original concrete roadbed, Mitchell said. As before, there are still three general purpose lanes. But now, an HOV lane has been added. It won’t be opened for another couple of weeks, Mitchell said.
The exit currently being used by eastbound Route 16 traffic headed to southbound I-5 will be closed and converted to its intended use as a one-lane HOV exit.
Four HOV ramps in the Route 16/I-5 system will be opened over the next two months.
The entire I-5 HOV lane system won’t be in place until after the new southbound bridge over the Puyallup River opens in 2021, Mitchell said.
The temporary 50 miles per hour speed limit through the construction zone remains in place.
“That will remain in place until we have no more work out there,” Mitchell said. That includes through the construction of the new Puyallup River bridge.
Northbound I-5 will see some work in the same area over the next month as crews remove temporary barriers and return lane widths to 12 feet and increase shoulder width. That work will occur overnight.