Relief on the Way for Busy I-5 in Tacoma as 20-Year Project Nears End

Me Photo Headshot
East L Street Bridge over I-5 aerial view of bridge under construction
Construction crews building the new East L Street bridge over Interstate 5 in Tacoma on June 17.

A 20-year project to expand freeways in the Tacoma, Washington area to ease congestion is nearing completion.

The $1.4 billion project to add HOV lanes on Interstate 5, State Route 16 and SR 167 in Pierce County is expected to wrap up this summer, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

On June 26, WSDOT announced that the contractor on the final section of the project, Guy F. Atkinson Construction, opened a new general-purpose lane and two auxiliary lanes on northbound I-5 between SR 16 in Tacoma and Port of Tacoma Road in Fife.

Final striping is occurring on the new HOV lanes to open in late July in both directions on I-5 between Fife and SR 16 in Tacoma, according to WSDOT. The HOV lanes were built to th­e left of the general-purpose lanes and are separated by barrier or line stripe, depending on the location. In all, the rebuilt I-5 section will have six lanes in each direction.

The entire HOV project began in 2000. Since its inception, WSDOT has built and opened 235 HOV lane miles, most of which are north of the line between King and Pierce counties.

“WSDOT believes we cannot build our way out of congestion. However, we can make the best possible use of new and existing highway capacity,” the agency says on the HOV project’s webpage.

The goals, it says, are to increase the use of buses, vanpools and carpools; increase capacity for future travel growth; and help reduce transportation-related pollution and dependency on fossil fuels. 

The final phase is the southbound HOV project. A highlight was replacing the more than 60-year-old I-5 Puyallup River Bridge with a new bridge built to current seismic standards that is straighter and wider. Work on this $325 million section began in 2019.

The bridges over the Puyallup River have been completed. The southbound one includes a 223-foot girder that is the longest prestressed girder manufactured in the U.S. In all, the bridge consists of nine spans and 84 girders. Here’s a WSDOT video showing the construction of the southbound bridge: