I-5 on the Verge of Major Change

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The Washington State Department of Transportations freeway widening project will be at full steam soon. By the summer of 2009, about 16 miles of Interstate 5 through Lewis and South Thurston counties will be under construction.

The project was one of several discussed by Washington State Department of Transportation Southwest Region Engineer Bart Gernhart during a special meeting of the Chehalis City Council last night at city hall.

Planned Projects

Listed below is a roundup of all of the Washington State Department of Transportations planned projects in and around Lewis County for 2008 and 2009.

2008 projects:

U.S. 12: Rimrock Lake vicinity — stabilize slope

SR 7: Lewis County — safety improvements

I-5: Castle Rock to SR 505 — paving and safety improvements

SR 6: South Fork Chehalis River Bridge — replacement

U.S. 12: — centerline rumble strip installation

I-5: Rush Road to NE 13th — widen I-5 and LaBree interchange

I-5: 13th Street — signal

SR 504: Tower Road to Reynolds Road — safety improvements

I-5: Grand Mound to Maytown — widening

SR 508: Onalaska — pedestrian safety improvements

2009 projects:

I-5: Koontz Road to Blakeslee Junction — paving and safety improvements

I-5: Mellen Street — interchange improvements

I-5: Blakeslee Junction to Grand Mound — widening and safety improvements

SR 7: Morton to Nisqually River Bridge — paving/chip seal

U.S. 12: West Side White Pass — stabilize slope

U.S. 12: 3 Miles East of SR 123 — stabilize slope

U.S. 101: SR 6 to Grays Harbor Line — paving

SR 122: U.S. 12 to Mossyrock — chip seal

SR 122; Harmony Resort vicinity — fish passage

Four miles of I-5 are already undergoing widening construction to three lanes as part of the project between the Rush Road interchange and the 13th Street exit in Chehalis. There, a new Labree Road interchange is also being built. Another four-mile section of freeway, between Grand Mound and Maytown, is the next portion to be widened to three lanes and preliminary construction is already underway.

By summer of next year, these two projects will be wrapping up and the same process will be beginning for the section of I-5 between the Blakeslee railroad junction (Reynolds Road) and Grand Mound. That portion will be complete in 2011.

That will leave just the section of freeway between Mellen Street in Centralia and 13th Street in Chehalis, which is in somewhat of a holding pattern pending future developments.

Until there is a decision made on the flood control issue we cant move forward with the design for 13th Street to Mellen Street for any of the widening, Gernhart said.

Whether or not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Centralia Flood Damage Reduction Project is implemented will play a huge role in how the widening of 1-5 between Mellen and 13th streets eventually plays out, Gernhart said. The project calls for miles of levees to be placed along both sides of the freeway. If those levees are never constructed, then that portion of freeway — which is under water during major flooding events — would have to be raised several feet.

Its really important that we find a long-term solution. Gernhart said. We cant even start design. … It would be a complete waste of time.

Gernhart said that, several years ago, the Army Corps met with WSDOT and had preliminary discussions as to where the levees would potentially fit in the freeway widening plan. He said a lot of work still remains, and the section of freeway in question will remain in limbo until a flood solution is nailed down.

As for the two-mile stretch between Mellen Street and Harrison Avenue in Centralia, widening awaits a decision as to whether commuter distributor lanes — referred to as CD lanes — will be used. CD lanes are extra lanes, separated from the main interstate artery by a barrier, that would allow traffic to go straight from Harrison Avenue to Mellen Street, and visa versa, without having to get on the freeway.

The idea was posed to the WSDOT by Lewis County personnel as a possible replacement for the proposed Westside Connector project. However, the idea is still in its fledgling stages, and two committees will soon be assembled to tackle the specifics of the issue, Gernhart said. One will be comprised of elected officials from Centralia, Chehalis and Lewis County while the other will consist of technical experts and engineers, he said.

The goal will be to find a way to maintain a steady flow of traffic that doesnt force all vehicles to get on the freeway via Mellen Street.

So were looking at options, Gernhart said. We need to look at options to figure out how not to do that. Those options are completely different than the present layout of the interim Mellen Street project.

The interim Mellen Street interchange project is another issue Gernhart discussed. The project would be a precursor to a major interchange renovation set to coincide with the widening of the freeway from Mellen Street to Blakeslee Junction in 2012. The interim changes would add lanes to the Mellen Street underpass to make it less of a bottleneck, Gernhart said.

But the interim project may be null and void if we move forward with the CD line option, he added.

Gernhart said that all of the future projects are funded by the 2005 $9.1 billion transportation package that increases the gas tax by 15 cents over 12 years. Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, helped push the legislation through, and Gernhart said there would be very few, if any, new transportation projects without it.

The existing construction is all wed be seeing, he said.

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