CHOKEPOINTS

Where did the NB I-5 congestion in Tacoma go?

Jul 7, 2022, 6:15 AM | Updated: 10:40 am

The change was almost immediate. It was as if the Washington Department of Transportation just snapped its fingers or waved a magic wand. As soon as the new northbound lanes opened on June 26, the traffic just vanished.

The new Interstate 5 lane configuration in Tacoma really seems to have ended the daily slowing past the Tacoma Dome.

Let’s start the analysis with a recap of what the state did between the downtown Tacoma exits and Port of Tacoma Road on northbound I-5. There is a new general-purpose lane there and a new auxiliary lane connecting the on and off-ramps in the area, which the WSDOT communications consultant Cara Mitchell said added a lot more room to merge.

“It gives drivers more time coming on from I-705 and exiting to Portland Avenue or exiting to State Route 167,” Mitchell said. “More time to take those exits or merge out of those exits to the mainline, and there’s an additional G-P lane to merge into.”

And we all know that it’s the merging that is the culprit behind the congestion there.

There has been virtually no congestion from the corner by Highway 16 to Port of Tacoma Road ever since, and that includes a drive-through there Tuesday, July 5, in the middle of the afternoon. I was shocked. I did not get below freeway speed on the day after a holiday when I would have normally been in a three-and-a-half mile, bumper-to-bumper mess.

Is this just an aberration, or the real deal? Mitchell said WSDOT won’t know for a while.  “We’re optimistic, and we’re all excited,” she said.  “We also know that it’s a holiday, and traffic patterns aren’t quite normal yet, whatever normal is.”

But as Maverick famously said, “it’s looking good so far.”

Up next? Adding the direct High Occupancy Vehicle lane access between state Route 16 and northbound I-5.

Just imagine what that will do to this already improving drive. This will eliminate the weaving from the SR 16 HOV lane, which is current driving in the collector-distributor lane to its own direct HOV access ramp. That change should happen before the end of the month.

Mitchell said workers still need to handle the concrete barrier work, install signs and stripe the lanes. That work will happen at night.

Final and permanent striping will be done later this summer.

 

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Where did the NB I-5 congestion in Tacoma go?