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First day of new ramp meters in Tacoma causes major backups

Portland Avenue (East 28th Street) as it enters onto I-5 in Tacoma, on the day of new ramp meters, 6:50 a.m., July 9, 2019. (WSDOT)

Easing traffic congestion can be like playing whack-a-mole — if you fix the backup in one spot, other backups will form in another area. Such is the case of the new ramp meters that went live in Tacoma Tuesday morning.

“This is the first day of ramp metering to I-5 in the Tacoma area to ease the flow onto the freeway, to ease the backups on I-5 — I understand why they put them in,” KIRO Radio Traffic Reporter Chris Sullivan said. “What we’ve seen, and what drivers are telling us, is that they are experiencing lengthy delays on surface streets trying to get to those ramps with the meters.”

Initially, it appears that the congestion on the freeway has moved onto the surface streets.

Changes coming for Seattle’s most dangerous street

The Washington State Department of Transportation installed new ramp meters along I-5 entrances in Tacoma and Fife. Those meters turned on at 6 a.m. Tuesday for the first time, slowing the traffic that entered onto the freeway.

The meters are at onramps for 54th Avenue East, Port of Tacoma Road, and East 28th Street. Officials hope the new meters will not only ease congestion, but also reduce collisions by up to 30 percent. That has yet to be seen, but first impressions have not been positive for many drivers who report considerable backups on roads feeding into the onramps.

“On Portland Avenue (East 28th Street) I’m seeing more than a mile back up just to get to the ramp,” Sullivan said. “Our listeners are reporting they haven’t moved in 20 minutes. If you look at that, that tells you how much volume is getting on there every day. The pictures are crazy.”

Some listeners communicating with Sullivan theorize that drivers will eventually shift their routes to avoid the onramp congestion, using less-trafficked onramps in the future. This will hopefully spread out the traffic, lessening the impact. Only time will tell how the ramp meters will ultimately influence commutes out of Tacoma.


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