If you’ve recently noticed equipment and crews working alongside Interstate 5 just north of the Fife curve, you’ve seen the beginning of a 2-mile-long tolled expressway that will connect the Port of Tacoma with state Route 167 in 2026.
Construction on the $376 million project began in July.
The 167 Completion Project is one of two parts of the state Department of Transportation’s $2.38 billion Puget Sound Gateway Program. The other part is the extension of state Route 509 from 24th Avenue South in SeaTac to I-5.
Eventually, the 2-mile section now under construction will connect with four miles of new expressway between I-5 and state Route 167 in Puyallup where it now ends at North Meridian Avenue. That section begins construction in 2024 and opens in 2028.
Before the 167 Completion Project can begin in earnest, other infrastructure had to be put in place. First up was the new Wapato Way East overpass over I-5 and its associated roundabout, which opened in 2021. Also completed: A new Interurban Trail parking lot off 20th Street East.
The current work along I-5 has consisted mainly of pile driving next to the existing two bridges over Hylebos Creek, according to WSDOT project engineer Tom Slimak.
Drivers might not have even noticed they’ve been driving on the 1960s-era bridges, he said. The bridges are being widened so traffic can be moved further away from the median. When this is accomplished WSDOT’s contractor will begin building two new bridges just south of the existing pair.
The new bridges will accommodate a rerouted Hylebos Creek. It’s part of a much larger riparian restoration in store for the Hylebos.
“This is a large-scale environmental uplift that we’re going to be doing as part of this project,” Slimak said.
During the construction there will be no reduction of lanes, Slimak said.
The retired 70th Avenue East overpass won’t be demolished until late 2023. Although it’s closed to the public, construction crews are using it to access work zones and staging areas.
New expressway route
The new four-lane expressway’s route will merge with and exit state Route 509 at Alexander Avenue. The current two intersections will become one after construction is finished, Slimak said.
The expressway will have one interchange between Route 509 and I-5 — at 54th Avenue East. Southbound drivers on Route 167 will be able to exit the expressway at 54th if they desire. Drivers will also be able to enter the northbound lanes of the expressway there.
When the expressway opens in 2026, southbound drivers on I-5 will be able to access the new expressway but northbound drivers will not. Likewise, drivers using the new expressway will be able access northbound I-5 but not southbound.
Eventually, when the project’s second phase is completed in 2028, the missing exit and entrance will be added. They are not a priority in the first phase because traffic headed to and from the port would likely take shorter routes already in use.
In addition, because those ramps will also serve the future Route 167 to Puyallup, delayed construction can take advantage of design-build changes that could arise. Delayed construction also defers maintenance costs, WSDOT said.
All lanes of the expressway will be tolled 24 hours per day.
Tolls serve two purposes, Slimak said. One is to provide revenue. The other is to reduce traffic volumes. Not everyone who wants to use the expressway will be willing to pay a toll.
“If the toll point wasn’t there, there would be so much volume there that it wouldn’t function on day of opening,” Slimak said.
Toll prices will be decided in 2024 by the state Transportation Commission.
Drivers traveling between Tacoma and Browns Point need not worry about paying tolls. Only when drivers leave 509 and enter the expressway will they be tolled.
Beginning in 2024, a restoration of riparian habitat surrounding the project will begin.
The main effort will focus on Hylebos Creek and its tributaries. Waterways once straightened for efficiency, will meander again. The work will increase fish and wildlife habitat, Slimak said.
The elevation of the floodplain areas will be lowered, giving them more storage capacity.
A total of 150 acres will be enhanced, including new habitat from reclaimed farm and vacant lands.
Some 430,000 plants will be planted including trees, shrubs and grasses, Slimak said. Shade trees will protect salmon habitat.
A large portion of the land will be turned over to the Puyallup Tribe for stewardship.
The restoration should be complete in 2026 along with a bike and walking path that will parallel the route.
The shift to the new widened bridges on I-5 will happen either late in 2022 or early 2023, Slimak said.
“We’re not reducing lanes,” he said. “All lanes plus the HOV lanes will still be maintained throughout that stage.”
The I-5 interchange won’t start construction until the old 70th Avenue East overpass is demolished. Drivers should expect to see work there in fall 2023.
Meanwhile, a small mountain of fill dirt is being accumulated between 20th Street East and I-5 for the new interchange. The double diamond design is similar to the Marvin Road/I-5 interchange in Thurston County. The interchange will use approximately 250,000 cubic yards of fill dirt, Slimak said.
The final stage of construction will build the remaining four miles of Route 167 between Puyallup and I-5 with completion in 2028.