Special Reports

Just keep on merging on Highway 16

Plans to activate the state’s new on-ramp signals along Highway 16 have been shelved, and it could be some time before they get the green light again.

The state Department of Transportation planned to activate the ramp meters earlier this month, but officials are hesitant to start them up until some of the system’s communications equipment is repaired.

The new signals are meant to smooth out the morning flow of traffic headed toward the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The stop-and-go meters will restrict traffic on ramps as far as Purdy, some seven miles from the bridge.

But they might not be turned on until this fall, said Bill Elliott, the transportation department’s civil design review manager on the new bridge project.

Equipment that transmits camera images from the meters to a traffic center in the Spanaway area needs replacing, he said. Those images are used to monitor on-ramp congestion so the timing of the signals can be tweaked if necessary.

Now transportation officials have to tweak their plans instead. Planners saw a spring-time activation as an ideal test run because of the season’s traffic patterns. With school out in the summer, traffic flows dip dramatically, Elliott said.

So transportation planners are weighing the benefits of either starting up the meters as soon as possible or simply waiting until fall. In the meantime, drivers must keep merging as usual.

Daniel Thigpen: 253-597-8660