After 22 years and $1.4 billion, the new I-5 HOV lanes open in Tacoma

Aug 26, 2022, 11:47 AM

After 22 years of construction on Interstate 5, Tacoma’s High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) project will be fully open to the public Sunday, Aug. 28.

The newly opened section runs from Port of Tacoma Road in Fife, at State Route 167 in Pierce County, to the State Route 16 interchange in Tacoma.

HOV lanes and left lane camping explained, again

Construction has been happening for more than two decades at the cost of more than $1.4 billion to pay for shifting lanes, construction barriers, and detours on the highway.

The 90s-era plan called for a continuous HOV system on I-5 from Seattle south to SR 512 and another on SR 16 from I-5 to Port Orchard.

Construction on the project began in 2001 in Nalley Valley at the I-5 and South 38th Street interchange, and in 2010, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) opened its first Pierce County HOV lanes on a span of I-5 from the King County line to the Port of Tacoma Road.

The project’s completion was initially set for the end of 2021, but with supply chain issues creating delays in getting essential building materials, from pipes to concrete, the project had to be delayed by contractor Atkinson Construction.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, one location where drivers will see noticeable improvements is from eastbound SR 16 to northbound I-5, where drivers in the HOV lane have been forced to merge with traffic in the general-purpose lanes, sometimes causing significant backups.


In addition to building HOV lanes, WSDOT has also rebuilt bridges to meet current seismic standards, helped the environment by improving stormwater treatment ponds and drainage systems, replaced the original asphalt and concrete roadway on I-5, updated new electronic traffic devices, and added new travel cameras.

The L Street overpass, featuring new dedicated bike lanes, is not finished, but it opened to traffic Friday, Aug. 19, and will require some overnight closures to complete.

The southbound HOV section between SR 16 and King County will be complete by the morning of Sunday, Aug. 28, but that is not quite the end of the project.

There will still be a few overnight closures of the lanes on I-5 to put down reflective pavement markings and paint. After that, the project will be officially complete.

Other projects that will still need to be completed include a levy fortification along the Puyallup River, dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5, and the rebuilding of the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5.

WSDOT officials urge drivers to still be cautious and not get too complacent in their celebrations though, for the sake of the crews working on finishing up the construction project.

“On any state highway in our state, we ask that you keep our crews safe when you’re driving through a work zone,” WSDOT said. “Please pay attention to the road in front of you and don’t drive distracted. We want all our road crews to go home safely at the end of their shifts.”

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After 22 years and $1.4 billion, the new I-5 HOV lanes open in Tacoma