CHOKEPOINTS

After 20 years of work on I-5 in Tacoma, what’s another six months between friends?

Oct 28, 2021, 5:58 AM | Updated: 6:14 am
Tacoma, construction...
An aerial photo taken October 2021 of the new northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River bridges. The old bridge structures are being removed while the new southbound bridge is under construction. (Photo courtesy of The WSDOT Blog)
(Photo courtesy of The WSDOT Blog)

In a 20-year construction project, what’s a few more months? I don’t mean to joke, but I’m trying to keep things light considering how long drivers in the Tacoma area have suffered through I-5 construction.

Tacoma drivers face another delay to I-5 HOV project

We found out earlier this week that the I-5 HOV project in Tacoma won’t be finished until next summer, and I know it’s not what drivers wanted to hear. It’s not what the Washington State Department of Transportation wanted to hear either.

The department expected to have the southbound Puyallup River Bridge and all the HOV lanes connected between Fife and Highway 16 by the end of 2021. Drivers were rejoicing in the end of this project, which is just about old enough to buy liquor.

And now this.

“This is not what we wanted to see at all, but unfortunately this is the chain of events,” WSDOT’s Cara Mitchell said. “We’ve had some supply chain issues, some recent events with their schedule and subcontractor availability, and then compacting that by weather.”

There have been delays getting drainage pipe and concrete panels delivered to the construction zones, and when some of those materials finally arrived, there were no workers to install them.

“We knew that there were going to be concrete panels coming in with a potential delay, and when they came in, they didn’t have the crews to put them up,” Mitchell said. “At that point, the rain started coming down, and here we are.”

Once it became clear the contractor wasn’t going to be able to deliver, “we thought we need to come clean and rip the Band-aid off and tell folks that we have a few more months of this,” she said.

The latest schedule only says the project will be finished in summer of 2022, and that’s as specific as Mitchell will get right now.

So what’s the holdup?

The supply chain issues, worker availability issues, and weather can only account for so much. The project is at a critical stage, where the sequencing of work is very important, and most of it centers on the T Street construction zone. This is just west of where the bridge goes over the Puyallup River, and it includes some railroad right-of-way. The new freeway alignment goes right over the top of it. Mitchell says there is a fourth quarter moratorium on interrupting freight traffic right now, and WSDOT is working to find windows where it can continue work.

“We don’t have the luxury of having extra room,” Mitchell said. “We’re building over a river. We’re building over railroad tracks. It’s not flat land where you can build a detour around and send people on their way and do their work. We have a lot of things on this project that we have to work around.”

I-5 will remain in a temporary configuration until the project is done. Workers are now preparing to pour the center support column for the new L Street overpass, and Mitchell says there’s just too much to do and not enough dry months.

“We’ve got to get the paving in. We’ve got to get the concrete panels installed, get the drainage finished up in there, get all that work done before we can move all lanes of southbound I-5 onto the new bridge and all the way onto the new alignment,” Mitchell said.

Even with this latest delay, the work will still be completed within the original timeline, which is before the end of 2022.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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After 20 years of work on I-5 in Tacoma, what’s another six months between friends?