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Changes to 54th Avenue ramps take shape, still years away

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The rising tide of traffic flowing to and from the industrial tideflats is clogging the ramps from Interstate 5 through Fife. Planned changes at the ramps are working their way through the review and design phases, but plans for one of those sets of changes at 54th Avenue could transform how residents shuttle around the city.

The current I-5 and 54th Avenue East ramp system has almost constant congestion and growing lines of vehicles queuing to get on or off I-5. That volume leads to a high number of vehicle collisions.

That could change.

City officials have been working with state, tribal, port and federal agencies for the last three years to analyze alternatives for the interchange that would not only cut down congestion and increase safety, but boost connectivity between the two halves of the city that were created by I-5 bisecting the city.

Initial work developed nine alternatives with that roster that are now cut down to five, following an open house earlier this month. These five alternatives now will be evaluated in greater detail, with the goal of selecting a preferred alternative for the interchange.

The preferred option coming from the open house, known as the “Hybrid City Center Design,” keeps all the existing on and off ramps on the east side of 54th Avenue and would provide two locations to enter or exit both northbound and southbound I-5, as well as include a new crossing of I-5 at Frank Albert Road East and 46th Avenue East.

This alternative would provide many of the benefits of the full City Center Design and it would reduce the impacts to properties east of 54th Avenue East, but it would be cost much less, with estimates as low at $40 million. That’s $20 million less than other alternatives and doesn’t involve tribal reservation land.

“It’s still a significant amount of money, but it is not insurmountable,” Fife Public Works Director Russ Blount said.

Fife will now conduct more in-depth research and design of the redesign and its alternatives involving environmental reviews of wetlands, air and water quality, noise, cultural and historic properties and community cohesion for each of the options that will be presented at another open house later this year, with hopes of having the details ready for the state and federal funding period early next year.

Work on the interchange won’t happen anytime soon however. Even fast tracking the work would mean construction wouldn’t start for another four or five years. In the meantime, crews are working on I-5 and the associated ramps through Tacoma and Fife as well as the final leg of State Route 167 that will have its own roster of local ramp changes and road improvements.

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