Climate change may be to blame for dying landscapes along I-5

TACOMA, Wash. — Freshly mulched ground with newly planted trees is part of a billion-dollar effort over the last 20 years designed to improve the Tacoma and Pierce County HOV Program along Interstate 5.

Though the project wrapped up about a year ago, the foliage isn’t exactly thriving, and some of it is dead.

It’s frustrating to think about: investing time, money, and resources into a project only for it to flop just a year later. That’s what’s been happening to landscapes along I-5 in Tacoma and Pierce County.

We contacted the Washington State Department of Transportation. Officials said they found out about the site with dead trees and shrubs near State Route 16 and Interstate 705 during a routine site check by landscape architects.

Unfortunately, what they’re noticing is that plants, especially native ones, are struggling to adapt to the climate.

“We are seeing changes in the climate of course and the folks who are managing our landscapes are aware of that and they realize that what thrived in the past climate is not necessarily what’s going to do best in the future climate,” said Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond.

Because the landscaping is still under contract with Atkinson Construction, it’s technically on the hook to replace the plantings for at least two more years.

But some say the dying plants and trees aren’t something anyone can necessarily fix.

“We have seen systematically dry summers the last couple of decades and that is something the climate models are suggesting is going to be our future compared to past decades. Basically, the whole landscape is drier than it usually is this time of year,” said Bond.

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