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Chokepoints: Milestones coming for I-5 Tacoma construction

It’s pretty obvious how bad traffic is along I-5 in Tacoma.

That section of the freeway has been under construction almost endlessly for about 20 years. But if you look out far enough, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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I-5 in Tacoma can be a joke. The ramps that are open and closed seem to change every week as construction zones bounce around.

“We currently have three active construction projects through Tacoma right now that cover seven miles of I-5,” said Cara Mitchell of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

She knows it’s a pain. She drives it every day.

“It is quite a process, but we appreciate drivers’ patience as we are really getting close to being able to finish up some of these projects.”

Positive changes are coming. Drivers will soon be funneled onto the new northbound Puyallup River Bridge by the end of the month. Only heavy rain or bad weather will keep that from happening. That’s a huge benchmark in this HOV project. Drivers entering the freeway at 28th and those exiting to the Port of Tacoma will get the first crack at the new bridge. Everyone else should be driving on it by next spring.

Additionally, drivers coming down the hill from Highway 7 are getting their ramp back.

“We are in the process of getting ready to reopen the SR 7 on-ramp to southbound I-5,” Mitchell said. “We hope to have that opened up by the end of October or the first part of November.”

The long-term closure of the city center ramps from northbound I-5 is also about to end.

“We are anticipating reopening the northbound I-5 exit 133 to Tacoma City Center by November 15,” she said.

As some pain ends, however, new pain will take its place. There are about five more years of construction left to endure through downtown Tacoma. As soon as the new northbound Puyallup River Bridge opens next year, construction on the new southbound Puyallup River Bridge will begin. It’s not set to open to traffic until 2022 if everything sticks to the current schedule.

Mitchell said the state likely won’t open the new HOV lanes and ramps to Highway 16 until all of the work is done. She says they don’t want to have drivers darting back and forth out of construction zones.

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