Delay in opening I-5 lanes for Tacoma traffic shift causes major backups

VIDEO: I-5 lane shift in Tacoma

TACOMA, Wash. — The Washington State Department of Transportation was late reopening all southbound lanes on I-5 in Tacoma as part of a new traffic shift that was supposed to start Wednesday morning at South 38th Street.

All lanes of southbound I-5 through Tacoma and from eastbound State Route 16 to southbound I-5 didn’t reopen until around 9 a.m., four hours behind the scheduled 5 a.m. reopening.

By 8 a.m., what is usually a 10-minute drive from Federal Way to Tacoma was taking drivers an hour, according to WSDOT.

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Cara Mitchell with WSDOT told KIRO 7 that the delay was in part caused by a minor traffic collision that happened in the work zone late Tuesday night. It did not involve a WSDOT crew but added to cleanup time.

WSDOT staff said they will be talking with the contractor Wednesday to find out more on why the delay was so extensive.

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WSDOT moved all the southbound lanes over to run next to the northbound lanes to make room for a new work zone for the I-5 State Route 16 HOV connector project. WSDOT said the shift was "very large in scope."

Drivers can no longer access South 38th Street and instead will be detoured about a mile to South 56th.

The traffic shift will stay in place until the end of the year.

A blog from WSDOT said, in part:

Contractor crews building HOV lanes in Tacoma close ramps and lanes on I-5 and SR 16 almost every night. Ninety percent of the time, those closures have reopened on time, if not early.
Even though the lanes didn't reopen when we'd planned today, this traffic switch still signals a major milestone in bringing HOV lanes to Pierce County and replacing the original surface of I-5.
Please know that we do sympathize with your frustration over what happened this morning. Our promise to you is that we will work to ensure that something like this does not happen again.