Motorists will be able to drive on widened shoulders along Interstate 5 during heavy traffic as part of the state’s effort to ease congestion through Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Part of a $15 million federal grant the state Department of Transportation secured Thursday will pay to allow “hard shoulder running” in both directions of the chronically congested freeway stretch between Berkeley Street and Thorne Lane.
The widened shoulders will improve traffic flow by giving motorists extra distance and time to exit I-5 or merge into traffic compared to on- and off-ramps, state officials say.
“It isn’t as good as having a fourth lane, but it’s the next best thing,” said Ron Landon, a Transportation Department engineer who worked extensively on the grant application.
Here’s the grant application:
The shoulder running will be used in conjunction with overhead signs that notify drivers ahead of time when individual travel lanes are closed or blocked.
Another portion of the grant will pay for more ramp meters, now being constructed in Thurston County, through the 15-mile stretch of the important commuter and freight corridor.
The stop-and-go signals are intended to prevent merging traffic from clogging the freeway. Added on-ramp lanes will allow buses, vanpools and carpools to bypass the meters at some locations as an inducement for motorists not to drive alone.
The projects are intended to extend the life of the I-5 section until long-term fixes, estimated to cost more than $1 billion, can be funded and constructed.
Growth at Lewis-McChord and throughout the region is “pushing capacity of the roadway to the tipping point,” the grant application said, and the corridor is congested nearly 10 hours each day.
The grant award is another signal that the congestion and its implications on the state economy and national security has the attention of politicians.
Fifteen thousand freight trucks drive this stretch daily, the application said. Eighty percent of the 152,000 vehicles that pass through Lewis-McChord gates each day use I-5 for access, it said.
U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said he and other federal lawmakers representing the region lobbied for the money. The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded 46 grants out of 848 submitted applications.
“The (Lewis-McChord) situation has been our highest transportation priority in the South Sound area,” Dicks said.
(Read the full story in The News Tribune in the coming days.)
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