This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
This weekend, nine years after the Legislature passed a gas tax to help pay for highway projects across the state, South Sound drivers will get a dramatic reminder of the wisdom of that investment.
Road crews will start rearranging highway barriers, blasting the roadway clean and laying new striping late Saturday so that traffic can begin flowing from Interstate 5 to state Route 16 in a brand new way.
Nothing this big has happened for Tacoma-area commuters since the first crossing of the second Tacoma Narrows bridge in 2007.
Sure, no one will show up at the office on Monday with an “I ran the offramp” T-shirt or be able to crow about making the inaugural exit onto Sprague Avenue in a classic car, but this weekend’s opening will be spectacular all the same.
Imagine: No tortuous traffic jams stretching from the Nalley Valley viaduct to nearly the Tacoma Dome. No race to change lanes once cars are funneled onto the viaduct from the interstate. No backtracking on pothole-ridden Tacoma arterials because the Sprague exits are closed.
The completion of the second Narrows bridge four years ago provided much-needed relief but was also a bit of a tease. It fixed one traffic jam – the Narrows crossing – only to send cars hurtling towards another – the Nalley Valley viaduct.
South Sound commuters get a partial reprieve from the $184 million project opening this weekend. Those fortunate drivers headed westbound on state Route 16 are promised a snarl-free passage, courtesy in part of a soaring flyover that hurdles the interstate.
Eastbound state Route 16 drivers will get theirs, in time. They get a Sprague exit now, but a total overhaul of the eastbound alignment still awaits. Two more years of construction, and the interchange will be complete.
Complete, that is, until the state begins the $213 million job of retrofitting the junction with carpool lanes sometime around 2020. Ah, progress.
Driving through Pierce County will remain a test of nerves, but we’re down one major chokepoint. Here’s to a saner, safer trip for Tacoma-area drivers.