TACOMA, Wash. - Q: Heading west on state Route 16 from the interchange with Interstate 5, the first section of the HOV lane is blocked off. It is clearly visible from about the merge point of the lanes coming from northbound and southbound I-5, but it is not accessible until after Union Avenue.
The result is that the Union Avenue traffic merges into the congestion on Route 16 before the traffic is able to disperse to the HOV lane. Is there some reason for this, and is there any plan to reopen the lane? — Richard
A: This is a detailed question, and a sentence or two was edited out for brevity. Luckily, the folks at the state Department of Transportation knew exactly what Richard was talking about.
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That HOV lane will return, they assured me.
The temporary obstruction is a necessary part of a bigger project that should eventually be good news for HOV-lane users and for congestion overall. The transportation department’s HOV Connector project will build new bridge structures and direct-access ramps to connect I-5 carpool lanes to state Route 16 carpool lanes. The new structures will be solely for use by HOV traffic and “will create the last HOV link within a core HOV system that will stretch from Gig Harbor to Everett,” according to the project website.
A spokeswoman for the DOT offered this explanation of the current situation in that location, somewhat paraphrased by me:
That small section of HOV lanes on eastbound and westbound Route 16 were closed temporarily in late 2017 for construction. Crews had to create the work zone to perform survey work in advance of construction.
During that work, “crews were looking at drainage, sign structure locations, and pavement construction tie-ins between eastbound and westbound SR 16 and the median barrier,” the spokeswoman said.
This spring and summer, the contractor working on the connector project will reconstruct the HOV lanes on that section of state Route 16. Once that’s done, a section of those lanes will reopen to HOV traffic in late 2018.
The completed project with HOV structures and interchanges connecting I-5 to state Route 16 is expected to be complete in 2020.