Community News Transportation

Carpool lane project completed after 22 years

Posted on August 26th, 2022 By:

At long last, high-occupancy vehicle lanes will extend uninterrupted between Gig Harbor and Seattle.

On Friday morning, the state Department of Transportation opened a new section of the southbound I-5 carpool lane from the Port of Tacoma Road to the westbound Highway 16 HOV lane. On Friday evening, crews removed the temporary barrier on northbound I-5 and opened the HOV lane from the Highway 16 interchange, across the Puyallup River into King County.

This weekend, crews will re-stripe southbound I-5 from the King County line to Port of Tacoma Road to finish opening the new southbound HOV lane. The entire HOV lane project will open by 9 a.m. Sunday, completing a $1.4 billion project that began 22 years ago.

The work was conducted in many phases, each building off those before it. Carpool lanes were included from both ends of new Tacoma Narrows Bridge when it opened in 2007. The westbound lane extended to Olympic Drive from the outset, though eastbound it stopped at Center Street in Tacoma.

The first milestone was way back in 2001, when I-5 was expanded for HOV lanes at 38th Street. Three years later, the first HOV lane in Pierce County opened in Fife.

Then, crews rebuilt the I-5-Highway 16 interchange, expanded I-5 across I-705 and rebuilt both spans of the Puyallup River Bridge. Drivers saw endless lane shifts and temporary configurations, but contractors were required to keep at least three lanes open during peak travel periods.

WSDOT spokeswoman Cara Mitchell described it as akin to remodeling a kitchen while cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to building HOV lanes, crews also rebuilt bridges to meet seismic standards, improved storm water treatment ponds and drainage systems, replaced the asphalt and concrete roadway on I-5, updated electronic traffic devices and added new travel cameras.

This photo montage by WSDOT shows the evolution of I-5’s crossing over the Puyallup River since 2007. WSDOT