The Washington Department of Transportation is planning to add lanes to Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington Department of Transportation is planning to add lanes to Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to battle long-term traffic problems, but the six-year project is expected to make traffic congestion worse between Olympia and Tacoma in the near future.

The extra lanes are being funded with $494 million from a gas-tax increase approved by the Legislature in July, The Olympian reported ( ).

The expansion will bring at least eight lanes of traffic to nearly the entire highway along the base, though it has not been decided if the new lanes will be restricted to carpools. In the meantime, construction crews and 120,000 vehicles a day will be competing for the same space on the freeway.

Preliminary work such as permitting and design is to be done so crews can begin working in 2017. The plan is to open the northern part of the highway in 2020 and finish the southern part in 2023.

Locals are looking forward to the day when some of the gridlock may disappear.

“This is such a zoo,” said David Anderson, president of the local neighborhood association near the Thorne Lane exit. “You can’t get out. You can’t get in.”

Locals avoid that exit at afternoon rush hour as cars leaving JBLM and Camp Murray head for the freeway.

One mile between Thorne and Berkeley Avenue eventually will stretch a full 10 lanes wide counting a couple of exit lanes, one existing and one to be built as part of the project.

Some local officials remain skeptical about the project, including some officials in Lacey who question whether it merely moves the choke point south.

To some degree, it does, said Bill Elliott, engineer on the project, but it shouldn’t be as severe as what drivers see now because of the high traffic volume that exits the highway at Center Drive.

A booming Puget Sound area, not just the base, has brought more cars to this part of I-5. Most of the 76 percent increase in traffic over the past three decades came before the base’s massive growth over more than a decade of war.

JBLM is Pierce County’s largest employer and although it’s not the largest in the state — that’s Boeing — it’s the largest in a single workplace.


Information from: The Olympian,