Interstate 5, connected work set to start

The construction “double Dutch” that will stage several projects along Pierce County’s strip of Interstate 5 heading into King County is set to start in a few months. The work will last years and span a series of projects to expand the roadway, replace bridges and streamline on-ramp designs. Costs for the work will top a half billion dollars and is already behind schedule.

The first slate of work involves replacing the northbound I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River. The work is in a holding pattern since construction requires an agreement with the Puyallup Tribe, which is in negotiations out of concerns about impacts to salmon habitats and tribal lands.

“All we know is that the ball is in their court,” Washington State Department of Transportation Communications Manager Claudia Bingham Baker said. “We are in regular contact with them.”

Once the agreement is reached, work can begin on the north bridge and will shift to the south bridge once the first span is completed. The roadway needs at least one bridge open at a time to allow I-5 traffic to flow through the area.

The new bridges will be wider and straighter than the current spans and will enable the roadway to have commuter lanes that will be added as well. Crews will widen northbound and southbound I-5 to four general-purpose lanes and one additional High-Occupancy Vehicle lane from Tacoma’s M Street to Portland Avenue. To do this, WSDOT will replace the Pacific Avenue and McKinley Way bridges over I-5, and build a new northbound I-5 bridge over the I-705 interchange. Work on this phase of the I-5 improvements is set to start in the spring and will last for about three years.

Dovetailing onto the northern side of the I-5 construction site will be work to improve access to State Route 167. The aging Puyallup River Bridge at Meridian Avenue will be repaired starting this spring, for example, to remove corrosion on the existing steel trusses and restore sections to maintain the current load rating of the bridge. The bridge will eventually be replaced.

The bridge is in such bad shape that it was moved ahead of work to reconfigure the SR-167 freeway from Tacoma to Edgewood, which will cost $2.4 billion and is not yet funded anyway.

This completion of the last leg of SR-167 would finally link shipping terminals on Tacoma’s tideflats to the warehouse and distribution hubs in the Puyallup Valley some 20 years after it was first proposed as a “vital project for economic development.”

While this state-funded work is underway, the City of Tacoma will be moving forward to replace the Puyallup River bridge that connects Tacoma to Fife. The $30 million project will be funded through a partnership among the City of Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Pierce County, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, federal grants and the City of Fife.

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