By George Tibbits Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Need a place to park? Try Interstate 5 between Lacey and Tacoma this spring and summer as the state rejuvenates more than 25 miles of the freeway.
Washington Department of Transportation officials are warning that at the worst, it could mean night and weekend delays of up to five hours and 21-mile backups.
“We’re hoping that doesn’t happen,” said Kevin Dayton, regional Transportation Department administrator. However, “If we find that nobody alters their traffic habits, that’s what the model says are some of the worst ones.”
The project to fix up 25.5 miles of I-5 lanes in two segments between south Tacoma and Lacey, a suburb north of Olympia, is one of dozens under way this year along the freeway corridor in Washington and Oregon.
Many are being paid for by federal stimulus money. In this case, the $8.4 million I-5 project was made possible because eager contractors submitted lower than expected bids on earlier stimulus-funded work.
As travelers are well aware, the critical and highly used north-south route is showing its age, with cracks and rough sections in much of the concrete roadway. The state says the road between Lacey and Tacoma has lasted 50 years — two and a half times its expected life span.
The work will be on two sections, from south Tacoma to Lakewood, and the Nisqually Delta to Lacey. Contractor Penhall Co. will replace 295 broken pavement panels, install nearly 57,000 metal bars to tie panels together, then grind the roadway smooth. Work started late last month and is expected to continue through September.
Dayton said the agency is trying to make things as easy as possible. But it still will be a motoring ordeal.
Single or double lane closures can be expected weeknights from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m, which the department hopes will back up traffic only a mile or two. The closures have already started at Lacey and begin April 19 at Tacoma.
Dayton said there will be extended closures on nine weekends, with traffic sometimes down to a single lane in one direction and lasting until 11 a.m. or noon and backups of 5 miles or more. Overnight between April 24 and 25, all northbound lanes will be closed at Marvin Road forcing motorists to detour.
Predicting what will be closed and when also depends on the weather, he said, noting that Olympia got a dusting of snow Thursday.
Washington has more than two dozen projects in the works for on or near I-5 this summer and Oregon two to three dozen more. None is expected to be as inconvenient as the Lacey-Tacoma stretch.
Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Peterson said most of its projects are small, but there are three major jobs: adding a third southbound lane to the longtime bottleneck north of Portland, replacing the Willamette River Bridge at Eugene, and building a new interchange at Medford.
Dayton said much of the aggravation between Tacoma and Lacey can be avoided if drivers plan the right times to travel and try to stay cool. The Washington State Patrol will be out in force to encourage politeness, he said.
“Just be patient, drive slow, take it easy, let people in,” he said.
On the Web
Washington Department of Transportation construction projects: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects
Specific information on Lacey-Tacoma project: www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/PavementRehab/I5MartinWayto48thSt/d efault.htm
Oregon Department of Transportation projects: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HighwayRegions.shtml