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State promises no more I-5 Tacoma lanes shifting after this month

The Washington Department of Transportation promises Tacoma drivers will only have to endure one more series of lane shifts through the I-5 construction zone — and it’s serious this time.

I chuckled when I watched the opening of the instructional video the state has released in preparation for these final moves, stating: “After 22 years and 17 projects, the $1.6 billion investment, known as the Tacoma-Pierce County HOV program, is nearly complete.”

Let that sink in a bit —  22 years of construction in that area. There are plenty of people who have never known an I-5 that’s not under construction in Tacoma.

Diverging Diamond interchange is making progress in Lacey
Good to Go tolling: Have you checked your windshield recently?

The end is in sight, but not before some last major traffic shifts. Over the next two weekends, both north and southbound drivers will transition to new routes through Tacoma.

Cara Mitchell with the Washington State Department of Transportation said these will be the final shifts drivers will have to endure.

“They won’t have to be seeing constant shifted lanes every couple of months,” she said. “We’d like to keep something consistent drivers and not have continual movement for them.”

This weekend, if the weather cooperates, northbound drivers will shift to the left from about McKinley to Portland Avenue.

“They’re shifting the traffic so that a work zone can be created so crews can begin to widen I-5 and repave a segment of the original roadway surface,” Mitchell said.

This move will clear the way for an even bigger shift next weekend, which will put all southbound traffic into the northbound lanes of I-5 over the Puyallup River.

“There will also be a new temporary collector-distributor lane across the old southbound I-5 bridge. That collector-distributor lane will be a big switch for drivers who want to get off at the exits prior to downtown Tacoma. You will have to be in the far right lane a lot earlier than you’re used to.

“Travelers, who are heading southbound I-5 and exiting to State Route 167 or Bay Street or Portland Avenue, will need to stay in the right lane near Port of Tacoma Road,” Mitchell said.

You will have to make your decision and your move to that exit about a mile earlier than you do today.

The freeway will stay in this configuration until the project is finished in two years, and the new southbound Puyallup River Bridge opens.

“It has been hard, and we appreciate drivers’ patience,” Mitchell said.

But before you jump for joy, just remember that construction on the Gateway Project starts later this year, which will return orange cones to the area. The I-5 widening project through JBLM also continues.

In Tacoma — 22 years and counting.

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