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Little pain for little gain with latest construction along I-5 in Tacoma

The Tacoma Dome. (File, MyNorthwest)

It’s another case of a little pain for a little gain along I-5 in Tacoma, which seems to have become the norm during the nearly quarter-century of construction there.

Tacoma transition begins final piece of I-5 construction

Changes are coming this weekend to the southbound I-5 lanes right after Highway 16 merges in, south of downtown Tacoma. The state is going to be taking a lane temporarily but adding a reconfigured and longer auxiliary lane between 38th and 56th.

“Crews are going to temporarily close the far left lane of southbound I-5,” the Washington Department of Transportation’s Cara Mitchell said. “This closure creates a median work zone, allowing crews to construct two HOV sign structures.”

Drivers just got their fourth southbound travel lane back, but the contractor needs it back.

“They’re looking at losing that left lane for approximately six weeks,” Mitchell said.

That’s the pain. Now to the gain. If the weather cooperates this weekend, a new auxiliary lane connecting the on-ramp to southbound I-5 from 38th to the off-ramp at 56th will open.

“This new lane will give 38th Street travelers a dedicated lane to merge onto southbound I-5,” she said.

It’s nearly a mile long, so drivers no longer have to feel panicked to get over right after entering the freeway. They will have plenty of time to merge.

I drove through that stretch of I-5 the last two weekends. The freeway feels a lot wider as you make that uphill, sweeping left hand turn toward the Tacoma Mall. Mitchell said drivers will notice the difference.

State promises no more I-5 Tacoma lanes shifting after June

“We’re back to 12-foot lanes and we have full-width shoulders,” she said. “There’s a lot more space going around that curve.”

But we will have the next six weeks without that left lane to deal with, and Mitchell said the backups will return.

“It will probably get a little tight again during the commute hours, but once we get through this work it’s really going to be nice,” she said. “It’s really going to open up nicely for drivers.”

Nearly 100,000 vehicles use that stretch of southbound I-5 every day. This work should really help them out.

The state is also still on-track to open-up the HOV lanes connecting I-5 and Highway 16 later this year.

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