The current round of construction along Interstate 5 hit its midpoint this year, so there is only another four years left of local construction cones and lane closures along that strip. But that won’t end work crews and detours. Those will continue for years to come as work then focuses of port-related off ramps, interchanges as well as State Route 167.
WSDOT is set to reopen Pacific Avenue’s bridge over I-5 this week and close the McKinley Avenue bridge next week as crews march north into Fife to take on the truck-related traffic to and from the tideflats.
The next major ramp system work will come to Port of Tacoma Road to provide a more streamlined route between I-5 and the shipping terminals on the tideflats.
“It was never designed to handle the level of traffic back when it was built decades ago,” Fife Public Works Director Russ Blount said. “Even with all of these improvements, there will still be some level of delay in I-5.”
Port of Tacoma Road dates back to the 1960s and is now a key roadway for the tideflats, which supports some 43,000 jobs. And more jobs and truck traffic is on the way. Prologis is moving forward with plans for a 1.7 million-square-foot complex at the Fife-Tacoma city line that is projected to add 3,000 vehicle trips a day to the local roadway. Another half-million-square-foot complex by Portside Development will add another 1,500 vehicles.
The one-mile strip of roadway between I-5 and SR 509 is often already clogged with traffic. It has six traffic lights as well, causing backups onto I-5 as well as clog feeder roadways throughout much of the day. Some 18,000 vehicles drive through the area each day, a level of traffic that saw more than 200 accidents in the last three years.
The $63 million Port of Tacoma Road overpass in the work will help streamline traffic on and off I-5. The new interchange will have I-5 traffic taking 34th Avenue toward the tideflats. Trucks from the tideflats would then use Port of Tacoma Road to return to I-5.
Fife’s ramps at 54th Avenue, which has 20,000 drivers each day, will also get a makeover. City officials there have been working with state, tribal, port and federal agencies to develop an interchange that would not only cut down congestion and increase safety, but help in the city’s efforts of creating a downtown hub for commerce and community gatherings to end the struggle of “two Fifes” caused by I-5 bisecting the city. The preferred option at this point calls for a “Hybrid City Center Design” that keeps all of 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 at a cost of about $40 million.
Construction of the final leg of SR-167 is set to start in 2019 and will likely continue through 2031 at a cost of $993 million from the $16 billion Connecting Washington transportation package lawmakers approved last year. The road would start at the current junction at Meridian to tie into Interstate 5, according to state reports. This project also includes the construction of a two-mile connection from I-5 to SR 509. These improvements will provide two lanes in each direction from Tacoma to Edgewood and Puyallup. But the road improvements still won’t control traffic snarls and backups. They will just largely keep up with traffic growth.
“We aren’t going to have free flow,” Blount said.