A new auxiliary lane on southbound Interstate 5 between Thorne Lane and Berkeley Avenue in Lakewood opened Wednesday morning for drivers commuting to the Madigan Gate of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The new lane allows more room for drivers to merge onto and off I-5 to ease traffic backups during heavy use times.
Tom Tolman of planning division for JBLMs Directorate of Public Works said those backups have been occurring regularly and repeatedly most mornings, ensnaring commuters to Madigan Army Medical Center or to physical training.
Sometimes it was a milelong back up, Tolman said. Anytime you have cars zipping by at 60 miles per hour and cars sitting on the shoulder, its a safety concern.
After receiving federal funding via a Tiger Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Washington State Department of Transportation has made improvements on the I-5 corridor between State Route 520 near Lacey and State Route 512 near Parkland.
One of those improvements is the auxiliary lane for traffic to merge onto the exit ramp. While the new lane does not completely resolve the back-ups, it will give drivers a safe place to merge onto the exit ramp without causing congestion on I-5.
But there is more hope on the horizon because this is the first stage of an overall improvement to the I-5 Berkley interchange, said Claudia Bingham Baker, WSDOT Olympic Region communication manager.
Baker said the next step is the City of Lakewood turning the auxiliary lane into a double left-turn lane. This requires widening the Freedom Bridge overpass to include the additional left turn lane.
Baker said there are also plans by WSDOT to include the addition of closed-circuit television cameras along the highway, install data collector stations, digital signs about lane changes and 17 ramp meters along the I-5 corridor near JBLM.
So even though this is an interim improvement, it will get those motorists exiting onto Berkeley safely and its a big step in making the ultimate improvement on the I-5 interchange, Baker said.
These long-term improvement plans arose from meetings between WSDOT and city leaders and officials, including JBLM officials. Recently, WSDOT started working on an interchange justification report and compiled traffic analyses along I-5. Baker noted four interchanges have been evaluated in an Interchange Justification Report and presented to officials Dupont-Steilacoom, JBLM Main Gate, Berkeley Avenue and Thorne Lane.