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Agreement reached for freight route improvements

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The Port of Tacoma and the City of Fife have entered an interlocal agreement that is the latest step in the development of a $50 million project that is meant to improve freight mobility and traffic flow from the tideflats to Interstate 5 by expanding capacity of the Port of Tacoma Road interchange.

“It can be congested at most times of the day,” POT Government Affairs Manager Evette Mason said. “The bottleneck that is crated there is very challenging.”

That congestion would only get worse quickly as truck traffic continues to grow and construction begins on nearby State Route 167.

The multi-phased project will improve the main access to the Port of Tacoma and the north Fife business district by creating a second ramp so that traffic will have one-way only routes to and from the shipping terminals. The agreement allows Fife to sell three right-of-way parcels at the intersection for about $200,000 to help fund the project while the port will contribute up to $1.5 million to the project. 

“Over the past decade, the Port of Tacoma experienced strong growth in containerized cargo, adding nearly 2 million tons of international containerized cargo and fueling over 1,800 direct jobs at Port marine terminals,” according to the staff report. “A significant portion of this cargo enters and exits the Port area via the Port of Tacoma/Interstate 5 Interchange. This principle interchange provides access to numerous businesses and port terminals, and is a critical transportation link supporting the local and regional economy.”

The commission unanimously approved the deal last Thursday.

The construction of the new ramp and the associated roadwork along Port of Tacoma and East 34th will come in three phases and start in 2017. Phase 1 will add a new southbound exit ramp on I-5, connecting at a new intersection at Pacific Highway East and 34th Avenue East. Phase 2, which will come simultaneously, will extend the new southbound exit ramp to a new southbound on ramp to I-5. Phase 3 will then consist of a new bridge over I-5, new northbound off and on-ramps, and improvements to 20th Street East. It is set to start in 2019.

Once the work is done in 2021, Port of Tacoma Road from 12th Street East to Pacific Highway will be made one-way southbound.

“It really will help out a whole lot,” Fife Public Works Director Russ Blount said.

The project is just $10 million short of being fully funded. The project is also likely to receive $7 million from the Transportation Improvement Board later this fall, so the funding gap will likely be just $3 million. The interlocal agreement closes that gap since the port and Fife agree to split the remaining costs.

Work won’t stop there, however. One project on the table would be to connect the 34th Avenue directly to State Route 509, which would streamline traffic even further.

“I view that as really critical,” said Port Commissioner Dick Marzano.