Traffic Q&A: Locals know how to get to I-5; visitors to Tacoma might not

Question: I’ve noticed strangely placed new directional signs for Interstate 5 on westbound North 30th Street. Instead of directing drivers to head south on Union Avenue as most locals would do, the signs seem to direct drivers to continue on to Pearl Street and access I-5 from there.

Is this some sort of effort to reduce traffic accessing state Route 16 at Union Avenue?

I think I’ve seen similarly placed signs in the Stadium District that suggest alternate ways to get to I-5.

Gotta be a plot afoot. – David, Tacoma

Answer: Not a plot, says Tacoma traffic engineer Joshua Diekmann – just an attempt to direct drivers onto streets more suited to handling heavy traffic.

The city’s Public Works Department installed the new I-5 directional signs (Diekmann calls them “way-finding signs”) in anticipation of this summer’s Freedom Fair on the Fourth of July.

“These signs help drivers unfamiliar with the city, especially during the event, which closed parts of Ruston Way and Schuster Parkway to vehicles,” Diekmann said. “On North 30th, drivers were directed to Pearl Street, which is a four-lane principal arterial, instead of Union, which is a two-lane minor arterial in this area.”

Locals might scratch their heads over the signs, but, in theory at least, the greater good is being served.

“The selected routes intentionally emphasize streets which are better suited to higher traffic volumes than local streets which might be more direct for neighborhood residents,” Diekmann said.

So, will the signs come down, now that Freedom Fair is long gone?

Diekmann says no.

“While the signs were installed as part of our preparations for Freedom Fair,” he said, “we installed them permanently because they are helpful to our out-of-town guests all year long.”