Washington State Department of Transportation announcement.
This is it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The opening of the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 through Tacoma will happen in late August. It’s a surreal moment for us too.
Over the past three years you’ve hung in there with us through work zones, shifted lanes, ramp closures, overnight closures of I-5, and more new configurations of I-5 than this author can remember. Since 2019, we:
- Built a new southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
- Removed all but a few remaining pieces of the old northbound and southbound I-5 Puyallup River Bridge
- Widened I-5
- Replaced the East L Street Bridge
- Added new auxiliary lanes
- Added HOV lanes
- Installed enhanced lighting, stormwater collection and filtration improvements
- Replaced aging pavement
This video visually highlights all the work that has gone into this effort from the past three years to open HOV lanes and ultimately finish the project.
Opening the HOV lanes signals a monumental moment for Pierce County transportation. To finish this final I-5 HOV project in Tacoma, we still have a few items to complete by this fall. This includes:
- Levy fortification
- Removing old bridge piers
- Completing the public art installation on East 28th Street
- Work to add dedicated left turn lanes on Portland Avenue under I-5
- Some landscaping and river habitat restoration
- Install final striping and recessed pavement markings on I-5
- Rebuild the SR 167 on-ramp to southbound I-5
New East L Street Bridge opens in August too
As part of this project, crews replaced the East L Street bridge spanning I-5. The new bridge has wider lanes, wider sidewalks, and has dedicated bike lanes in each direction. The East L Street bridge was removed and replaced to accommodate I-5 widening beneath it. Neighbors on both sides of the bridge have been incredibly patient with us over the last three years as our crews worked to complete this bridge.
About that remaining highway work
Once the HOV lanes open, you won’t see much work happening on I-5. In fact, if you’re not driving in the middle of the night, you may not see any work happening on I-5 near the Puyallup River.
The overnight work that is planned for I-5 on either side of the Puyallup River includes lane closures to grind and place new asphalt on southbound I-5 near the Port of Tacoma exit. Overnight lane closures will also happen when crews install the permanent reflective pavement markings and final striping throughout the project. The southbound SR 167 on-ramp will close for repaving and to remove two partial spans from the old bridge that remain near the ramp. This ramp closure time length is still to be determined and we will let drivers know the timing of this work once the schedule becomes available.
We also anticipate the reduced 50 mph speed limit will be removed, and the previous 60 mph speed limit be restored once the work zones on I-5 have been removed. The new speed limit will be enforceable once the signs are installed and uncovered.
Northbound I-5 already dodging traffic headlines
In June, our crews put northbound I-5 in its final configuration (minus opening the HOV lane). This final configuration added one general purpose lane and an auxiliary lane to northbound I-5. We noticed immediately the disappearance of this area as a trouble zone from the morning traffic reports.
Honestly, this made all our transpo-nerd hearts skip a beat and made us even more excited for the upcoming opening of the HOV lanes. We recently compared traffic data between May 2022 and July 2022 on northbound I-5 at M Street. The data shows that congestion has dramatically decreased in July, while a 12 percent increase in traffic volume occurred.
The amount of time we see congestion during peak commute hours is dramatically less. Instead of seeing four or five hours of backups and heavy traffic on northbound I-5 through downtown Tacoma, we’re seeing an hour and a half.
Summer traffic volumes are different than the rest of the year. We know this data could change once school begins in the fall. By then, however, the HOV lanes will be open. Opening the HOV lanes will add additional capacity to all lanes on northbound and southbound I-5 in Tacoma.
Safety, always a priority
We know you may be excited to drive on I-5 through Tacoma on the new, wider highways. It does take time to get used to new lanes and travel movements so please stay focused on the road and drivers around you. There may still be occasional work zones in place. We ask that you keep our crew safe while we finish this project.