CHOKEPOINTS

Improvements to I-5 through JBLM have been ‘game-changer’ for congestion

Nov 4, 2021, 5:52 AM
I-5 JBLM traffic...
Traffic along I-5 through JBLM has significantly improved. (WSDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)
(WSDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s been three months since the second phase of I-5 construction through Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) wrapped up. But are the HOV lanes doing their job, and have the improvements made a difference to drivers?

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

The new northbound I-5 HOV lane opened just south of the JBLM Main Gate in July. I drove it the following weekend on a trip back from the beach, and I was flabbergasted. The normal, frustrating, bumper-to-bumper grind from Lacey up through JBLM just vanished where the HOV lane started. I couldn’t believe that the traffic would disappear so quickly, just by adding that one lane, but it did.

I thought maybe this was a one-off — perhaps the traffic was just light that day.

But it wasn’t. The Washington State Department of Transportation looked at its heat maps, which track congestion, and they show similar results.

“The previous congestion that we saw in the northbound direction and the delay that we would see historically at JBLM’s Main Gate disappeared,” WSDOT’s Cara Mitchell said.

It confirms what Mitchell has been seeing personally on her drives through the area: The HOV lane is working.

The southbound HOV lane opened a little later in July, and so did the new shared exit to Thorne Lane and Berkeley, and that drive has seen a similar improvement over the first few months of operations. It has also eliminated the weaving and merging between those exits that caused extra congestion.

“The congestion that we historically saw build between 512 and Bridgeport moved further south, down to JBLM Main Gate, and that’s what we expected,” Mitchell said.

That’s where the phase two freeway improvements end, and the road goes back to three lanes.

Pushing the congestion south is not ideal, but the next phase of construction will widen the freeway down to the Steilacoom-DuPont Road and rebuild that entire interchange. That work is set to begin in 2023.

Tacoma drivers face another delay to I-5 HOV project

Mitchell knows it’s difficult to wait so long to fix this problem, but WSDOT is doing what it can, as fast as it can.

“We only have a certain amount of right-of-way,” Mitchell said. “We only have a certain amount of lanes; we only have a certain amount of money. We need to get the biggest bang for our buck when we are doing these projects.”

The state is also starting to look at widening I-5 all the way through Nisqually to deal with that daily chokepoint, but that work will likely include a new bridge and quite a bit of environmental work before it goes to the legislature for approval.

But, for now, it’s time to celebrate some success. It’s important to highlight when projects do what they were designed to do and pay out on promises made to the public.

“This is a game-changer for commuters who are trying to get from Point A to Point B, picking up their kids going to soccer practice or football games or to work,” Mitchell said. “Time is valuable, and that’s what this is about, improving our lives with these improvements.”

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

Chokepoints

Trash is strewn along an Interstate 5 freeway on-ramp as viewed in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by G...
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: A glance at current Washington state laws to avoid littering on the road

Littering is still a huge problem on our roads, but are you still required to carry a trash bag in your car?
7 days ago
Expansion joints underneath I-5 (KIRO Newsradio)...
Chris Sullivan

I-5 expansion joint repair will hamper your summer driving

If the weather holds, southbound I-5 will be shut-down this weekend through Seattle for the first of a summer’s worth of weekend closures for expansion joint repairs.
12 days ago
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)...
Chris Sullivan

ORCA card gets a reboot with instant value transfer feature

The new site and app will allow more than five million users to add money to their accounts instantly alongside 6,000 new card readers and vending machines.
15 days ago
fare...
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: Sound Transit passes fare reform with diminished ridership accountability checks

Sound Transit no longer has mechanisms in place to check I-D's and track who isn't paying in the first place with their decision to remove law enforcement from the fare enforcement process.
18 days ago
Expansion joints I-5, bumps...
Chris Sullivan

Work to remove bumps along I-5 through downtown Seattle set to bring months of weekend closures

Workers are about kick off work to remove those bumps on I-5 through Seattle, but it's going to come with a heavy price for drivers.
26 days ago
WSDOT, HOV lanes...
Chris Sullivan

Northbound HOV optimism and aggressive litter cleanup in Puyallup

Nearly every morning on the KIRO Newsradio text line, I receive this question: When will the northbound HOV lane open?
28 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Improvements to I-5 through JBLM have been ‘game-changer’ for congestion