Drivers through two freeway construction zones in Tacoma will be restricted to 50 mph starting Monday, the state confirmed.
The speed restriction comes in response to a crash March 26 on southbound Interstate 5 where authorities say a speeding semitruck knocked the center barrier loose near the Highway 16 junction — the eighth truck crash in the vicinity since Sept. 30.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had marked an advisory 50 mph speed limit in December, and spokespersons said last week a mandatory 50 mph limit was infeasible and maybe unenforceable.
Since then, regional administrator John Wynands held new talks with State Patrol officials and decided to make 50 mph mandatory, said Kris Rietmann, WSDOT communications director. Contractors worked over the weekend to install 70-80 signs that show the new speed limit, she said.
Troopers plan to increase enforcement, despite a lack of shoulder space to set speed traps or pull over drivers.
“We see someone speeding, it doesn’t mean we can’t follow them to a place where we can pull them over,” said Capt. Monica Alexander, State Patrol spokeswoman. That might even mean escorting speeders off the freeway at the next exit, she said.
“We’re seeing this happen again and again, and we’ve got to get a handle on it,” Alexander said of the crashes. “We don’t want people to be afraid to be on the freeway.”
Motorists also deserve to not get stuck two hours behind these collisions, she said.
The curved I-5 roadway near Highway 16 is part of a long-term construction zone, to create new ramps and high-occupancy lanes.
Temporary lanes are only 11 feet wide, a foot less that standard lanes. Safer lanes should be available in May, when southbound traffic through that curve shifts to a permanent road deck. Speeds would return to 60 mph as projects are finished.
Staff writer Crystal Paul contributed reporting.