SR-167’s $1.9 billion pricetag prompts funding challenge

State Route 167's route through Fife will help ease the traffic jams at key routes to Interstate 5 ... someday.

City officials say the completion of the "final link" between SR-167 and the tideflats will bring the most changes to the city since the opening of I-5 some 50 years ago. But the timeline of the change is a bit in flux since projections put the cost at about $1.6 billion but will all but end the days of commuter cars battling with container trucks for space on the city's roadways.

"It's a freeway that has got to be completed," Washington State Department of Transportation Regional Manager Kevin Dayton said. "And is to the community a very important linkage."

Work to finally connect SR 167 directly to the commercial traffic associated with shipping operations on the waterfront has been planned, discussed and studied for decades, with the route being finalized with a "Record of Decision" in late 2007. Engineers have been working out the details ever since, while the state has been purchasing right of ways along the route as money becomes available. About 70 percent of the path for the road extension has been purchased as transportation officials seek ways to pay for the rest along with the actual construction of the road itself. The entire project is set to include four miles of six-lane highway between Puyallup and I-5 followed by two miles of four-lane highway between SR 509 and I-5 and new interchanges at SR 161, Valley Avenue East, I-5, 54th Avenue East and SR 509. Side work of the project would be the addition of two weigh stations and two park-and-ride lots.

Both the Washington State Legislature and Department of Transportation consider the completion of SR-167 to be a top priority for the region and the state as well as with the City of Fife, the Port of Tacoma, neighboring cities, Pierce County and the Valley Cities organization and other economically focused entities, both public and private. But money is tight for such a large project. That means a toll system is being studied much like the second Narrows Bridge did years ago.

"To build the entire corridor, the project will need approximately $1.9 billion in additional funds for design, right of way and construction," according the state estimates. "Although the signing of the 2009-2011 transportation budget on

May 13, 2009 provided $63.4 million in right of way funding for the project, there is no construction funding at this time. Until additional funding is identified, construction dates will remain undetermined."
The state only has $159 million earmarked for the project so far. "Everything seems to revolve around money," Dayton said.

State Route 167 is the primary freeway connecting the Kent and Puyallup River valleys to the Tacoma metropolitan area. The Kent and Puyallup area holds the second largest distribution center on the West Coast. Almost half of the regional truck traffic from the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are destined for this area. The highway’s original planned route ran from Renton to Tacoma, but construction halted near Puyallup in the 1980s as engineers worked from north to south with available money. The SR 167 extension, which is projected to carry some 100,000 cars and trucks a day once completed, is a critical missing link in the state’s highway network. Its completion is expected to improve safety and reduce congestion along local roads and freeways in the surrounding area.

The smoother traffic flows and shorter driving times would, projections claim, fuel job growth to the tune of $10.1 billion by increases in shipping businesses the Port of Tacoma’s international cargo and other operations — an expansion that is contingent on good transportation connections to move the freight to and from the docks.
Public hearings are in the works for October with a final report to the Legislature due in December.

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