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Governor gets tour of traffic hotspots

Inslee ‘hopeful’ state will address problem

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:42PM October 24th, 2013
Governor gets tour of traffic hotspots

Julie Smith/Northwest Guardian

Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. describes JBLM's master plan to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee during Inslee's recent visit.

As part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr.’s description of the installation’s new master plan to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee Oct. 15, he focused on ongoing efforts to alleviate traffic issues that have challenged JBLM and the surrounding communities in recent years.

The briefing outlined traffic problem areas the governor had just seen firsthand, thanks to a 16th Combat Aviation Brigade helicopter tour of the I-5 corridor that winds through the installation.

Hodges summarized the rapid growth in uniformed personnel assigned to JBLM and parallel regional growth in the populations of Pierce and Thurston counties. The combined military and civilian growth in the region has made the Interstate 5 corridor from U.S. Highway 512 south to the Nisqually River Bridge a challenge to drivers in both directions during peak travel times.

Eighteen of JBLM’s 24 exits empty onto I-5, where the approximately 75,000 people who commute daily to and from JBLM contribute to freeway gridlock. Adding to the congestion is the lane configuration of I-5, which narrows from eight to six lanes near the Thorne Lane interchange.

“Every single day, morning and afternoon, we are pumping a lot of traffic on to I-5,” Hodges said.

Recent funding for JBLM from the Washington Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense is allowing road improvements designed to alleviate I-5 traffic adjacent to JBLM.

“We want to build roads allowing individuals to move on(to) the installation in a rapid fashion,” Hodges said. “We want to get people off I-5 using transit through JBLM.”

When construction on Pendleton Boulevard is completed, the main north-south thoroughfare through JBLM will become a high-speed arterial. The construction of Wharf Gate on Lewis North will allow access to DuPont-Steilacoom Road, giving Lewis North residents an additional path to I-5 by traveling through DuPont. The speed limit on Perimeter Road toward Puyallup and Spanaway will be raised to 50 miles per hour, and construction will finally begin on a joint base connector, allowing travel between Lewis Main and McChord Field without traveling through a security gate. Crews are currently paving a road from Lewis Main to the Mounts Road gate, which will enable Yelm and Lacey residents to exit the installation without entering I-5.

The plan also encourages mass transit systems like the JBLM shuttle bus and van pools. There are 80 van pools currently in use by uniformed and civilian personnel through a partnership with Pierce Transit and WSDOT, Hodges said.

Inslee observed the traffic trouble spots during the flyover with Hodges and other state government and military personnel. Inslee is working to guide a transportation package through the state legislature to approve state funding for I-5 improvements, which could include the construction of additional lanes.

But Hodges said that option is limited since the freeway is bordered on the west by railroad tracks and on the east by JBLM residential neighborhoods. A freeway expansion would result in the demolition of some JBLM homes that would have to be rebuilt in one of the family housing areas by the terms of an agreement with JBLM’s housing contractor, Equity Residential.

Regardless of the state transportation package proposed by Inslee, Hodges said the installation is moving forward with JBLM traffic improvement projects. “This is my contribution to help solve this problem,” Hodges said.

Inslee knows firsthand the frustrations of commuting. He said several times, he has been stuck in traffic near JBLM on his way to Olympia. He applauds Hodges’ efforts to decrease the traffic impact on I-5.

“You’re protecting our state and fixing our transportation systems at the same time,” Inslee said. “This is really impressive. Now we want our state to do some work here as well. I am very hopeful that the Washington state legislature will follow the lead of the military.”