JBLM isn’t the sole problem with I-5 traffic south of Tacoma

Jun 18, 2014, 6:55 AM | Updated: 7:33 am
Claudia Bingham Baker, the Washington State Department of Transportation in that region, said it's just people heading to JBLM causing the major traffic congestion problems. The population growth in the cities and counties around the base has exploded. I-5 has reached its over-saturation point. (AP Photo/File)
(AP Photo/File)

The 20-mile stretch of I-5 south of Tacoma, at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord exits, is on the most wanted list of traffic congestion in Washington. You can sit there for hours without there even being an accident, a stalled car, an Air Force plane, or Army helicopter to distract you.

It is packed and it’s gotten worse over the last few years.

Lee Murray works at JBLM and said the stretch of I-5 from south Tacoma to Lacey is one of the worst congestion spots in the state. Some days it just doesn’t move. Lee wanted to know why it’s gotten so bad and what’s being done about it.

Claudia Bingham Baker, with the Washington State Department of Transportation in that region, said it’s not just JBLM causing the problem. The population growth in the cities and counties around the base has exploded. I-5 has reached its over-saturation point.

“What we had was a highway that was built 50 years ago that was slowly reaching its capacity, and in about 2010 we began to see those factors come together to make the traffic demand higher than the capacity of the highway,” she said.

According to Bingham Baker, the Washington State Patrol has altered the truck scale operations at Mounts Road to get trucks off I-5 during peak hours. JBLM has staggered morning workouts, and the state is making small improvements. It is adding message signs and ramp meters. It has added an auxiliary lane between Thorne Lane and Berkeley.

The state is in the middle of a study to see what major improvements can be made to fix the congestion.

“To look at if you could wave a wand and change the configuration of I-5 and the four ramps between Steilacoom-DuPont Road and Thorne Lane, what would you want it to look like,” said Bingham Baker.

She said the state has 170 good ideas on how to fix the area, and engineers are now whittling that list down to something more manageable and realistic. The ideas include new lanes to the freeway and even adding more overpasses on I-5 to connect JBLM to the other side of I-5.

But she said the state is just at the beginning of this. The fixes are going to be a long time coming. “What you figure out, what you’re going to build, you need to find the funding,” she said. “You need to go through the design process. The last stage of this whole long process is churning dirt out in the field and actually building it.”

So the drive between Tacoma and Lacey is going to be bad for a while, but the state is working on it.

This chokepoint file came to us from Lee Murray who works at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The stretch of I-5 from south Tacoma to Lacey is one of the worst congestion spots in the state. Some days it just doesn’t move. Lee wanted to know why it’s gotten so bad and what’s being done about it.

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JBLM isn’t the sole problem with I-5 traffic south of Tacoma