Politics & Government

Officials ask for public opinion on I-5 traffic

State transportation officials want people who drive the congested stretch of Interstate 5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to share their thoughts at an open house in June.

Officials will discuss the work they’re doing to ease traffic, including a long-range plan to rebuild four interchanges and widen the freeway. Comments from the meeting will help shape final plans, said Bill Elliott, Olympic region coordinator for the state Department of Transportation.

“If members of the public want to influence the outcome, you’ve got to do that early,” Elliott said. “Influence should come before the conclusions are drawn, and we’re in that time frame now.”

Transportation planners are narrowing a list of potential ideas from 172 generated at brainstorming sessions, including meetings with elected leaders from DuPont, Steilacoom and Lakewood and representatives from JBLM.

Everything was up for discussion, including closing some of the nine interchanges on the 11-mile stretch of freeway from the southern limits of DuPont to the state Route 512 interchange in Lakewood. That was dropped from consideration after the 172 ideas were run through a first round “reality check.” More than half of the ideas were weeded out.

A remaining 51 suggestions are now under second review. Planners will look at whether the ideas push drivers off the freeway to arterial roads. They also will measure how the different suggestions ease traffic on I-5.

Data from a study that anonymously tracked Bluetooth devices in cars earlier this year will also shape a final solution. The state is using that data to learn how many drivers use the freeway for short trips, such as getting from one part of JBLM to another, and how many are passing the base as part of a longer trip.

The information is still being analyzed, but preliminary data show about half the drivers use the freeway for short trips and half use it for longer trips.

The tracking was done for two weeks at the end of January and counted the devices 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

At a meeting Wednesday held by the Transportation Department to prepare for the upcoming open house, elected officials asked for an update on project costs.

Sens. Steve O’Ban, R-Lakewood, Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, and Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, wanted to know whether an estimate would be ready for the 2015 legislative session.

Legislators need to know estimated costs to make sure corridor improvements aren’t underfunded, said Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield.

“We’ve only got one shot at this,” he said. “Having a number that is not going to truly address what the improvements are going to be is a concern that we have.”

A transportation package debated in Olympia during the 2014 session included $350 million for the project, but local leaders estimate costs will be closer to $820 million, Caulfield said.

It could be a year before financial projections are available, but Elliott said it is clear “existing revenues are not sufficient to support this.”

State transportation department open house

What: Learn about and comment on I-5 JBLM corridor improvements

When: June 11, 4-7 p.m.

Where: Eagle’s Pride Golf Course, Mounts Road, DuPont

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@