Crews are replacing 1960s-era concrete on southbound I-5

Washington State of Department of Transportation says crews are tearing up old concrete on southbound I-5 and replacing them.
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Washington State of Department of Transportation says crews are tearing up old concrete on southbound I-5 and replacing them.
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Traffic

That southbound I-5 split heading into Tacoma is a pain. When will we go back to normal?

By Candice Ruud

cruud@thenewstribune.com

September 23, 2017 08:00 PM

Q: When will that local/express split at exit 133 on southbound Interstate 5 finally go away?

A: If you drive into Tacoma coming from the north, you’ve no doubt encountered this quick and confusing divide that splits southbound traffic into two different paths: The three lanes left of the barrier are meant for cars headed to Lakewood and points south, and the two lanes on the right are for cars heading to Route 7, I-705, Route 16 and South 38th Street.

The division, which has been in place for most of the summer, is there to give workers space for construction on both the McKinley Street overpass and the outside lanes of southbound I-5.

It comes up fast and has been befuddling drivers, and readers have complained that the existing signage makes it difficult to figure out where you’re supposed to go.

Bad news.

The split will be in place through the rest of 2017, according to state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cara Mitchell.

Mitchell said the current construction schedule shows crews removing the split in early January 2018, but that date could change if the weather does not cooperate.

If you’re not used to it, taking that exit while it’s been divided is sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure, requiring quick response times and an ability to read and interpret several signs at once.

If you get stuck on the left side of the divide, you have to go all the way down past the Tacoma Mall to exit I-5. If you find your way to the right side of the divide, you still have to make a series of quick decisions and lane changes depending on which of many different possible outcomes you’re trying to achieve.

Surprising probably no one, drivers aren’t always the most thoughtful and courteous when faced with a bunch of split-second decisions about where to exit in an unfamiliar situation.

And when they mess up, they don’t always just take the loss and go the long way around: In August, a pickup driver trying to merge all the way to the far right onto state Route 16 struck a Puyallup Tribe police lieutenant and fled the scene.

The crash happened late on a Tuesday night on southbound I-5 at the exit for state Route 16, the Washington State Patrol said. The Puyallup tribal officer was driving home after his shift and was merging onto I-5 proper from the collector-distributor lanes from I-705 at the time.

The pickup driver saw an opening in the “candlesticks” that divide I-5 from the collector-distributor lanes and tried to cut through to make the exit for Route 16.

The tribal officer had nowhere to go and T-boned the side of the truck. According to the Washington State Patrol, the officer suffered a severe concussion and whiplash and lost feeling on one side of his body for a time.

Maybe we can all exercise a little mindfulness until DOT removes the split. In the meantime, cross your fingers for a dry winter (lol).

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud