I-5 Congestion Around JBLM - How Do You Fix It?

If I-5 south of Tacoma, specifically that lovely stretch through JBLM, is part of your regular commute, you may want to take note of an upcoming open house.

WSDOT is inviting residents and highway uses to learn more and to share their thoughts on resolving the problem of the frequent... congestion through that area.

If you've ever driven through the area on I-5 in anything remotely resembling a busy time of day, you know the situation - traffic slows to a crawl, and there doesn't seem to be much you can do, other than sit and swear. And it's only going to get worse. 

A planning study conducted last year explored the situation in depth, analyzing current traffic and influencing factors, predicting future trends, and identifying some ideas for addressing the problem.

I-5 traffic in south Pierce County increased 73% between 1986 and 2011, but the last significant widening project in the area was way back in 1975. Current peak traffic speeds through the JBLM area are between 22 and 36 mph. If nothing is done, traffic is expected to exceed capacity for up to 13 hours a day, with speeds during those periods expected to decrease to under 20 mph, and back ups extending north of 512.

The preliminary study identified a range of possible options - basically variations on widening I-5 beyond the current three lanes each direction, with the addition of various combinations of general purpose, HOV, collector/distributor, and/or auxillary lanes. Those scenarios were analyzed in terms of improvements to travel speed, hours of congestion, person-trips, and friction/conflict relief, as well as cost and environmental considerations.

Out of a half-dozen possible scenarios, two were identified in the study as having the greatest potential for improving the stretch of I-5 One would add an HOV land and a collector/distributor or auxillary lane in each direction. The other would add a fourth general purpose lane to the existing three, and an HOV lane in each direction.

Also up for discussion are various improvements to the four interchanges in the study area, and strategies for improving multimodal travel options and local streets in the area. Read more in the summary report from WSDOT (pdf).

The open house, scheduled for June 11, will be an informal drop-in style opportunity for the public to learn about alternatives being explored and to share their own thoughts on the situation. No formal presentation is scheduled, and those interested in attending are welcome to come any time during the three hour open house. 

So, what are your thoughts?

Do you want to help the folks at Exit133 pay our bills and keep up with of all things Tacoma? Do you want to see even more coverage? Exit133 has always been free to read and comment, and it will stay that way. However, over the years, readers have contributed to the bank account to help us keep up our coverage of goings-on around town. Contribute and this message disappears!

Support Exit133



Tell the military to pack their bags and go back home.

April 17, 2014 at 6:12 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 1


Well, the JBLM military base is a HUGE employer for Pierce County, and getting rid of a federal installation which brings in millions worth of revenue won’t happen anytime soon.  The correct response is to either make the freeway 4 lanes on each side, or add a separate I5 extension such as a 605 or 805 that starts near DuPont and deviates from I5 and goes along the eastside of the base and then reconnects with I5 after McChord at some point in time.  This would most definitely alleviate traffic conditions.  The problem is the state, county, and federal government never want to pay for any idea that actually works.

May 28, 2014 at 8:05 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


I’d like to see grade separation for the railroad at all of the interchanges for faster intercity high speed passenger rail in the future.  At a minimum they should be designed to allow for future grade separation projects to be constructed without having to demolish any of the new highway bridges.

April 17, 2014 at 9:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


Paid parking at JBLM.  Institute Flyer Lanes at the gates for Pierce Transit.  Problem solved.

April 18, 2014 at 1:33 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


Motor Vehicle traffic will get worse but in the calculus due to petroleum world resource depletion issues and even alternative fuels fortunately congestion will diminish just in a couple of decades as fuels or even energy becomes much more prohibitive (costly) and scarce.It will become unsustainable as there will to quote a title of a famous study from the 1970’s called the Limits of Growth.By 2040 or 2050 the Interstate Highways system itself will become mostly a Velomobile,surrey,bicycle or other human powered vehicle travel highway system.
Sorry but electric cars and electricity will be prohibitive to the majority of people except for the wealthy few.

April 18, 2014 at 1:48 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


April 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

fred davie

DOT could have added 3 or 4 lanes for what it wasted on the 520 floating bridge, the Columbia River replacement bridge studies, and the Big Bertha tunnel fiasco. These people can’t keep a project on time and on budget. Why don’t they show the public they can handle a major construction project and be good stewards of the public’s tax dollar at the same time?

April 20, 2014 at 9:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


How about a single dedicated lane between 512 and Martin that has no on or off option? Not HOT, not HOV, just a sign in Tacoma that says “Lacy/Olympia ONLY” and you get in it and then a separator keeps the incoming/outgoing base traffic out of the way.  Slowdowns happen when people change lanes at a speed lower than the traffic is moving in either lane. Keeping semis and commuter traffic separated from those that live/work in Dupont & JBLM should be the benefit of this system.

April 20, 2014 at 9:42 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0


That’s not a bad idea either.  Washington or at least Pierce Country seems to have issues with the way they make intersection/junctions on freeways.  For example to exit I5N and enter 512W, their should be two lanes that separate from I5 way back further, and then bridge on to the 512.  For the exit 132 congestion…its always because you have people getting on I5 from the 56th St onramp at the same time when vehicles are trying to get over to the 38th St exit.  They should be two completely different ramps.  The 38th street exit should become a bridge and go over the oncoming 56th street commuter entrance, and then have the choice to go to the 16 or to 38ths.  The freeway system just needs more tunnels, bridges, and loops.  The lack of these essential freeway assets is making traffic a night mare.  Los Angeles’ freeways work better than ours do.

May 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

Post A New Comment

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Potentially Related Articles