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WSDOT to reverse 70-year-old decision on I-5 through JBLM

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

I-5 drivers need to prepare for significant changes through Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). The state is raising the freeway 14 feet to make up for a 70-year-old decision.

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

The original builders of I-5 had a decision to make in the 1950s regarding what to do about Berkeley Street. It was already a well-traveled east-west route.

The Washington Department of Transportation’s Cara Mitchell said the choice was between a new interchange or digging.

“Instead of building a larger overpass at that time, it was less expensive to dig down underneath the existing cross-street, Berkeley,” she said.

But digging has consequences.

“They went down below the water table,” Mitchell said. “They installed a pump that has been running non-stop. Any time there is water on the highway it actually sucks the water off the lanes of I-5.”

Mitchell said it doesn’t make sense to have this pump anymore, considering that when it breaks down all the parts have to be custom made.

“It’s not something that we can order off of Amazon or online,” she said. “Everything has to be custom built on it, and that’s not effective when you have a limited maintenance budget.”

Engineers this time around decided to raise the freeway and get it above the water table as they constructed a new overpass at Berkeley.

I-5 northbound drivers through JBLM should be on that new raised section of road over the weekend, which means drivers need to be prepared for a little jog to the right as they approach the new interchange.

New overpass could be game changer for I-5 commuters

“They shift northbound I-5 to the right,” she said. “They get it up on to where the permanent lanes are going to be, and that opens up a work zone in the center. It also allows, a couple of weeks later, southbound I-5 will shift over to where northbound used to be.”

That will allow workers to start filling in the southbound lanes and get them 14 feet higher as well. There will be lane and exit closures Friday night into Saturday morning to allow this shift to happen.

Mitchell said the contractors probably have another year of work to do before the entire JBLM widening project is finished, which includes two new overpasses. It’s running a little behind schedule now because of the COVID-19 shutdown earlier this year.

She said most of the construction should be done by the end of the year, but the final paving and striping could push into late spring of next year because of the weather.

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