Our Northwest

I-5 bottleneck worsens, but relief due ... in 2021

Tuesday, November 22, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

road construction near Tacoma DomeIf you commute on Interstate 5 through the Fife corridor, you already know what the state's new Congestion Report reveals: traffic there is jammed more than ever.

Aside from a growing population and economy that put more vehicles on the road, much of that gridlock stems from major construction projects – a new bridge over the Puyallup River, new lanes near the Tacoma Dome, and widening of adjacent Route 167 that impacts I-5.

There's relief in sight, but not for several years – final completion of those projects is slated for 2021.

In the meantime, commuters likely will endure more of the same. A Nov. 19 News Tribune article highlighted the latest Department of Transportation findings, such as a morning rush "hour" through Fife that now lasts from 5:05 a.m. to 8:40, and an evening slowdown from 2:05 p.m. to 7:15.

freeway construction The Fife bottleneck impacts more than just north-south commuters. Many who travel from Seattle to the Kitsap Peninsula avoid ferry lines (annual ridership increased 6%) and fares by driving via Tacoma. But it's nearing the point where delays on I-5 and Route 16, plus the Narrows Bridge toll, make that a poor option.

I read the DOT Congestion Report to check out the I-90 commute. Between 2013 and 2015, westbound morning travel times increased by 2 minutes between Issaquah and Seattle, while eastbound evening commutes shrank – from 28 to 22 minutes to Bellevue, and from 34 to 32 minutes to Issaquah.

floating bridge traffic If you work at Microsoft in Redmond and commute to Seattle, you face a grim SR 520 drive. The stretch between I-405 and I-5 jams up from about 2:05 p.m. to after 8:00 p.m., peaking at 4:40 p.m.

And Spokane residents, your traffic is clogging up, too. The eastbound evening commute on I-90 backs up routinely between Division Street and Custer Road, an increase of 3.3 miles and 35 minutes just over the past two years.

Here's a bright spot: If you like riding the rails, you'll likely find empty seats on Amtrak Cascades. Ridership declined 3.2% last year.

Top two photos courtesy Washington State DOT


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