CHOKEPOINTS

3 years of construction to widen I-5 in Pierce County begins

Nov 30, 2023, 5:00 AM | Updated: 11:00 am

(WSDOT image)...

(WSDOT image)

(WSDOT image)

The next phase of construction to widen Interstate 5 through Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is now underway, and drivers can expect three years of lane reductions, traffic shifts, and congestion.

We’re now in Phase 3 of the widening project of both directions of I-5 from the north end of JBLM to DuPont.

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This will allow the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to extend the HOV lanes from where they now end near the Main Gate at JBLM about a mile to Steilacoom-DuPont Road.

“Where that HOV lane shuts down, that’s where you start to see the backups,” WSDOT spokesperson Doug Adamson said. “We’ll be looking to get more people into HOV lanes as we extend that HOV lane and also work on improving the interchanges down in the upon JBLM area.”

The northbound HOV lane will begin at Mounts Road as part of this project. Phase 3 will also include a new diverging diamond interchange at Steilacoom-Dupont Road.

“This diverging diamond interchange will help out in moving people more efficiently between the JBLM-DuPont gate as well as up into the Steilacoom-DuPont Road,” Adamson said.

And it provides another overpass of I-5 to take a lot of pressure off at Center Drive. A lot of the work has been going on just outside of view, but that will change in January.

“We’ll be seeing some pretty significant traffic shifts coming up here after the new year, and we really hope folks stay dialed in,” Adamson said.

People might ask why not add a general-purpose lane through the area, and you have to remember that WSDOT’s goal is moving people, not vehicles. Adamson said the last extensions through JBLM have really helped.

“We’ve seen a real decrease in congestion and travel times,” Adamson said.

I drive that corridor a lot, especially on Fridays. I-5 really does open up like never before once those HOV lanes pop up, but the southbound drive isn’t great where they end. This project should help address that.

Most drivers probably won’t realize another problem WSDOT is addressing with the project.

There is an underpass of I-5 connecting JBLM property on either side of the freeway at Pendleton Avenue. The clearance is only 12 feet, 4 inches. Adamson said trucks have hit the underpass four times this year alone.

“We have nine recorded incidents of overheight vehicles hitting the bridge dating back to 1993, so it’s an ongoing issue,” he said.

The last truck got stuck under the overpass. Responders had to deflate the tires to get it out of the way.

“It’s a very busy road, and even though you really can’t see it because it’s below I-5, it’s very important.”

This project will lower Pendleton Avenue to provide better clearance. The new height will be over 16 feet. Phase 3 is not the last project to improve I-5 in this area.

The next phase, which hasn’t been funded yet, will widen the freeway through Nisqually and rebuild the bridges over the Nisqually River.

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3 years of construction to widen I-5 in Pierce County begins