South Sound residents got some good news this week when it was announced that the plan to move Camp Murray's main gate into a residential neighborhood in Tillicum is still in the works.
If the new gate is able to accommodate a heavier flow of traffic and get vehicles off Interstate 5 in a more timely fashion, it will be a success. Officials at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord are encouraged to continue to seek solutions to the traffic backups at base entrances.
The state has set aside $1.7 million for the Camp Murray gate project and the Washington State Military Department this week confirmed that the National Guard Bureau has made money available for the $4.7 million project in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The project was thought to be lost earlier when the military department lost $3 million in federal funding.
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The new gate project is still a long way from a done deal, however. Getting approval from the City of Lakewood to funnel 1,000 additional vehicles a day onto a residential neighborhood street will be an uphill task.
Camp Murray, which lies on the west side of Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, serves as the headquarters for the Washington National Guard and the state Military Department.
The department needs a right-of-way permit to connect the proposed gate to public streets. Environmental reviews are under way.
The military department wants to move the gate to the intersection of Portland Avenue and Boundary Street to relieve congestion at the Berkeley interchange. The gate relocation would accomplish that by routing traffic to the North Thorne Lane interchange, which connects to Portland.
However, residents and city officials worry that moving the gate would turn Portland from a quiet neighborhood street into a busy and unsafe thoroughfare.
While Camp Murray and Lakewood officials continue to work through their issues, it’s imperative that Joint Base Lewis-McChord officials continue to look for long-term solutions to their traffic impact as well.
The problem peaked in the summer months when thousands of troops returned to the base from assignments in the Middle East. Combined with civilian commuters headed to work, the traffic backups on northbound Interstate 5 grew to intolerable levels – five, seven, even nine miles in length.
Only after base officials opened a gate at Mounts Road did the situation improve and tempers ease.
The military installations midway between Olympia and Tacoma have a big impact on our communities. They are good neighbors who add immeasurably to the quality of life in South Sound.
State Department of Transportation officials must take the lead on I-5 solutions, but it’s imperative that military officials at both the state and federal level continue to work with local officials to resolve these thorny transportation issues.
That’s what being good neighbors is all about.