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WSDOT looks to fix notorious I-5 traffic along Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Work being done on the Berkeley Bridge in 2019. (WSDOT)

The I-5 construction mess in Tacoma gets all the attention, but the freeway is also getting a makeover through Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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Thurston and Pierce County drivers are seeing the I-5 transformation every day during their commutes. Construction has been underway for about a year on four miles of I-5, between the Main Gate of JBLM and Gravelley Lake Drive. It is some short-term pain for a significant long-term gain.

“If you live, work or commute near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, undoubtedly you have noticed a substantial change to I-5 in this corridor,” said Cara Mitchell with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

I-5 can no longer handle the explosive growth in the South Sound. More than 140,000 vehicles a day roll through this area and the drive can be unbearable.

“Anybody who has gone through there on a Friday, anybody who lives there or commutes through there knows just how bad traffic is through there,” Mitchell said.

The contractor is rebuilding the interchanges at both Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane. The Berkeley Street overpass is just a few months from opening.  Mitchell said those overpasses need to be redone so the contractor can add lanes in both directions.

Drivers will be getting a new general purpose lane and auxiliary lanes connecting the interchanges through the area.  The additional lanes translates into drivers having up to five lanes available where only three exist today, but a reminder that those auxiliary lanes are really intended for merging on and off the freeway.

The new Thorne Lane interchange is expected to open in about a year, and all work should be done by summer of 2021. After that, the final piece of the freeway puzzle will begin. A new lane will be added in both directions of I-5 from Berkeley Street to the Steilacoom-DuPont Road.

When all of this work is done, drivers will have six miles of expanded I-5, three new interchanges that avoid rail traffic and use roundabouts to move traffic more efficiently. I won’t guarantee a smooth Friday afternoon drive southbound during the summer, but this expansion should significantly improve congestion through the area.

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