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I-5, girder, Fife
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Upcoming I-5 closure signals milestone in Gateway Project

This bridge girder shows just how big these record-breaking girders are. This one belongs to the future southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge and is 223-feet-long. The Fife girders are 220-feet long. (Photo courtesy of WSDOT)

It’s never too early to start talking about an upcoming full closure of I-5. It’s happening in about a month in Fife, and you should start planning for it now.

Both directions of I-5 will be closed on back-to-back weekend nights during the last weekend in August.  The freeway will be closed between Highway 18 in Federal Way and 54th Avenue in Fife, a 4.5 mile stretch of I-5. It’s only a nighttime closure between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., on Friday, August 28, and Saturday, August 29, but the impacts will be felt.

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“We really want people to be aware that this closure is coming up because we know how disruptive an I-5 closure can be,” said Laura Newborn with the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Workers need these 18 hours to place 10, 220 foot-long concrete girders into place. They will form the base of the new 70th Avenue overpass of I-5. Newborn said it would have taken much longer, if the contractor wasn’t local.

“Had these girders not been made close by in Tacoma — they were made at Concrete Technology Corp. — I’m not sure we could have done this,” she said.

So how is this going to work? How do you move 10 massive girders and set them in only 18 hours?

“The girders will be loaded individually on this massive truck and moved onto I-5 during the overnight hours, and on I-5 we will station two cranes that will lift the girders and move them into their exact spot,” Newborn said.

Workers will move five of the girders each night. There will be some ramp closures before the 11 p.m. nightly closure to accommodate these huge loads.

You might ask: Why go so big? Newborn said this design will save time on the freeway closures.

“Using these super long girders allowed us to build the base of the bridge in a weekend,” she said. “Had we chosen a more traditional shorter girder, we would have had to widen I-5 and build columns in the median. That would have meant extensive lane closures over a long period of time.”

This new overpass comes with all the bells and whistles and should provide a much improved trip into and out of the Port of Tacoma. It will have four lanes instead of two, and will have bike and pedestrian access too.

This overpass is the first really visible part of the Gateway Project, which will finally finish Highway 167 and Highway 509. If you’re new to our area, you might wonder why 167 ends in Puyallup. It wasn’t supposed to, but leaders stopped the funding decades ago. This project will finish the final 4 miles. It’s expected that this section will be tolled, as will the improved 509 between I-5 and the Port of Tacoma.

The final stages of the Gateway Project will finish 509 at the south end of Sea-Tac Airport. It will provide a direct south entrance and exit from the airport to I-5.

The new 70th Avenue overpass should open to traffic in about a year.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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