CHOKEPOINTS

Pierce Transit mulls the future of congested Highway 7

Mar 29, 2018, 6:23 AM

Pierce Transit Highway 7...

There's a study of Pacific Avenue to determine how to improve traffic flow. (WikiCommons)

Pierce County drivers are worried that their primary route is about to be put on a diet in order to make transit run faster.

RELATED: There’s no fix for the daily crawl along State Route 522

A driver who frequently uses Highway 7 asked me to check out the plans for a high-capacity transit corridor between Tacoma and Spanaway on that road, also known as Pacific Avenue.

If you haven’t driven that 14-mile stretch during rush hour, it’s like being stuck on I-5, with traffic signals. It barely moves and it’s only going to get worse as the population grows.

This driver is worried car lanes will be sacrificed to help transit move better.

Pierce Transit’s Rebecca Japhet said the bus routes on Pacific Avenue in this area are the busiest in its system with nearly 6,000 boardings a day.

“This area is identified by the City of Tacoma and Pierce County as a corridor for higher-density, mixed-use transit-oriented development. So it’s a good fit to look at putting something out there,” Japhet said.

Pierce Transit is wrapping-up a two-year study on what should be done with the corridor. Light rail, high-speed rail, and bus rapid transit are all being considered. Bus rapid transit appears to be the front-runner.

Most drivers assume that would mean getting rid of car lanes to give buses a faster trip. Japhet said that’s not the plan.

“The plans that are currently outlined in the study do not call for the removal of any general purpose car lanes along the corridor,” she said.

There could be some lane tweaking. For example, the center turn lane currently on Pacific Avenue could be used by the buses and cars in the future.  More lanes could be coming, too.

“There’s a chance we might add bus lanes,” Japhet said. “They would be bus-only lanes, but they would be in addition to what cars are traveling on right now.”

Pierce Transit will make its final decision in a few months. The agency has money from Sound Transit 3 and the state to pay for the project. It still needs federal money to be completely funded.

Construction is set to begin next year with service starting in 2022.

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