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Years of torture on state Route 16 about to end

Post by Kim Bradford on June 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm with 12 Comments »
June 23, 2011 4:20 pm

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 12
  1. Not unlike the Renton “S” curves, this project too will be obsolete before it’s completed….

  2. Tacoma sucks. not just traffic but the entire city and people. always has always will……you know i’m right

  3. Just kidding….stay class Tacoma

  4. PumainTacoma says:

    Dare we ask why the DOT invested millions on a Sprague ramp to go nowhere? Engineers scratch their heads asking why invest in a Sprague exit (one exit past Union) a monster million dollar ramp eh?

  5. FlyingTigress says:


    Well, it does go to Sprague Avenue – and serves the area surrounding Sprague. That does count as ‘somewhere’ rather than ‘nowhere’ – setting aside the value judgements that some people might have about the Hilltop.

    Seriously, now…

    Faced with, I’m guessing, the conflicting requirements of Sprague’s geographic location relative to the 5/16 interchange and the consequences of deleting it on Union and/or 705 (translation: increased traffic volumes) – the next closest interchanges serving the Hilltop area – and the needed improvement to the way that Sprague used to connect to EB 16, the design (including the as-yet-unbuilt ramps to EB 16) os probably about the best that could be reasonably accomplished.

    The best solution in road design isn’t always feasible. There may be problems with construction funding, right-of-way (either existing or able to be purchased), business relocation (= big $$$) topography, constructability, that are ‘solvable by throwing a LOT more money (at which point people start screaming about gold-plated projects and you start having to weigh cost/benefit ratios, and have to consider deleting other worthy projects) that force compromises in ‘what you’d like to do’ vs ‘what you CAN do’.

    I’m not ignoring political pressures, either. King County, for example is spending nearly $100 million – including Federal funds and contributions from the City of Seattle ($15 mil) – on a bridge near Boeing Field that connects the Cities of Seattle and Tukwila (with almost no one IN unincorporated King County near the bridge) to serve a lower-income community inside Seattle and a handfull of small businesses (that serve lunchtime meal trade for Boeing plant employees) at least partly for reasons of ‘social justice’.

  6. PumainTacoma says:

    I dont recall the Tribune making a stink when DOT tore down the bridges connecting south end with downtown over I-5 a couple years ago, yet we spent millions for Sprague. Now that is irony if we are suddenly interested in connecting communities.

    Sounds like a Tribune DOT kickback.

  7. PumainTacoma says:

    Never realized a Sprague exit was similar to Seattle a major hub for moving commerce via rail, cargo and freight. Good luck tomorrow.

  8. The Sprague ramp is NOT finished.
    In a TNT article some time ago that was done when people brought up the same issue, it was explained that traffic FROM Sprague would flow down from the same ramp. That ramp would resemble a letter “H” when completed, rather than it’s current “L” configuration. Has this changed???

  9. FlyingTigress says:


    Taking a look at WSDOTs website, no that hasn’t changed. Actually, there are two on-ramps – one for traffic that is going to SB 5 (opposite the now-constructed off-ramp) and one – a short distance north, and also on the east side of the overpass – for traffic going to NB 5. That’s eliminating the former weave across traffic to get into the lanes that lead onto NB 5.


    Thanks! I **am** looking forward to an easier commute coming home from Seattle to my home near Cheney starting Monday, and look forward to the completion of the rest (or, at least WSDOT’s Phase 2) of the interchange work. I don’t know, as someone who has worked (not for WSDOT nor the City) as a traffic/ transportation engineer for 25+ years, that reconstructing the Sprague interchange would have been something that I would have recommended. But, I can understand the factors – both political and technical – that might have led to the decision to do so.

    Oh…Are you referring to the bridges that, with (iirc) one exception, were rebuilt?

  10. Wait 2 years. The American people will not admit that fewer cars is
    the solution. Auto drivers will suffer forever until they figure that out.

  11. Omega6234 says:

    This has really opened things up and is very nice!! I like it!! Cant wait for all three phases to be complete… to bad tacoma will be a ghost town by then.

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