Data shows new NB 5 lanes are helping congestion

Jul 28, 2022, 6:23 AM | Updated: 6:38 am
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The new lanes on northbound Interstate 5 in Tacoma seem to have eliminated the daily grind passed the Dome, but now the state said it has the data to prove it.

The change was almost immediate.  The day after the new lanes opened in late June the northbound I-5 drive looked completely different. The brake lights that started just around the corner from Highway 16 in the morning were gone, and even during the height of the morning commute the backups never really materialized.

But they opened the week before the Fourth of July so I really wasn’t sure if this was the real deal.  Fast forward a month and those daily backups are still close to non-existent. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s Cara Mitchell said they’ve been tracking the travel times and the vehicle volumes, and those initial impressions seem to be accurate.

“The amount of time we see congestion in that area is dramatically less,” she said. “We have a spike between 5:30 a.m. to almost 7-7:30 a.m. and then it really mellows out.”

And even those daily spikes don’t create anything remotely like the daily backups I used to see. Mitchell said the new general purpose lane and new auxiliary lane in the area are also handling more traffic than before.  “We’re seeing a 12% increase in traffic volume through the area but with less congestion,” she said.

The one caveat now is that this is still summer when the volumes are traditionally lighter than during the school year, but the HOV lanes will be open then too, which should also help the congestion.

“We’ll continue to watch this throughout August, September, and October and see how this plays out,” Mitchell said. “By the time school starts, we should have those HOV lanes open which is going to add even more capacity and will even bring some of those hours of congestion down even further.”

So where are we on opening up those HOV lanes?

Mitchell said they had hoped to have them open this month, but the contractor has had a little bit tougher time moving the concrete barriers so the latest schedule is sometime in August.

“What we have left is a large section of finishing median barrier, drainage in that median area, paving and striping,” she said. “All that has to get done before they can open up those HOV lanes.”

That still fits with the initial schedule for finishing this HOV and widening project.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Data shows new NB 5 lanes are helping congestion