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Congestion on I-5 is bad, especially between Lacey and Lakewood. Studies are underway to evaluate and design major new construction projects, but it will take decades and well over a billion dollars to build those projects. Meanwhile, congestion grows.

No one can “solve” highway congestion. What we can do is make travel more reliable, more efficient, and less expensive. That’s what the JBLM / I-5 Congestion Relief Action Plan will do.

photo courtesy of 

TRPC received funding to develop and implement low-cost, high-value strategies to improve I-5 travel as fast as possible. This site provides background on the efforts leading up to this work, and a record of that work as it progresses. 

What has been done to date?

Over the last few years, highway investment studies and growth coordination plans have concluded that changes to the interstate system are needed to meet current and future mobility needs.

Recommendations in those plans include reconstructing I-5 to add high-occupancy vehicle and general capacity travel lanes, rebuilding various interchanges, and constructing the Cross Base Highway, in addition to many transportation projects on-base. Implicit in these recommendations is reconstructing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline that crosses over I-5 immediately south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and replacing the two bridges that cross the Nisqually River at the Thurston / Pierce County line. These projects will cost well over a billion dollars and take years to accomplish.

No Popular Choices

Choices associated with converting general purpose lanes to carpool-only lanes during peak periods, or introducing tolls or variable speed limits are not popular. Then again, neither is congestion, unreliable travel time, or increased gas taxes to pay for a $1-$2 billion project. There are no painless, popular choices to improve I-5 mobility, but to do nothing in the face of growing congestion is irresponsible. This project will explain why different measures are selected, the intended benefits, and the costs to implement.

What alternatives to driving are already in place?

Communities in this area have long supported viable travel choices that not only provide alternatives to driving, but also help reduce transportation impacts on climate change and give travelers a way to beat increasing fuel prices.

The reliability of transit, vanpool, and carpool options in south sound are impeded by the lack of HOV facilities south of Tacoma. Yet it will cost a lot of money and take years to build that system. The JBLM / I-5 Congestion Relief Action Plan will deploy interim measures to give a time advantage to these more efficient commuter travel options.

How can we improve the alternatives we already have in place?

We’re taking a systems approach, thinking strategically in the face of urgent need and funding reality. We will look for system bundles that can be deployed within:

  • Six months
  • One year
  • Three or more years

Each bundle will include the right mix of investments and policies to make I-5 travel more reliable, more efficient, and help keep transportation costs as low as possible. Active traffic management, HOV lane conversions, transit, vanpools, park-and-ride lots, transit flyers, parking policies, and time of day tolling will be paired with telework, flex schedules, ride share programs, and other employer-based commute trip reduction strategies. The JBLM / I-5 Congestion Relief Action Plan starts by identifying low-cost, high-value, quick-to-implement measures that can improve travel while longer-term, more expensive strategies are being designed. Waiting years to get started is not an option. Relief is needed now.

What about the needs of Joint Base Lewis-McChord?

Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is a partner in improving mobility on I-5. As the single largest employer in Pierce County and the third largest in Washington State, JBLM plays an important role in our communities. We have to acknowledge that JBLM is unlike any other employer on this corridor. That is why special focus is being targeted on the unique needs and opportunities of the military base.

The South Sound Military and Communities Partnership that emerged from the coordinated growth planning process will serve in an advisory capacity to the project.

From billions to millions. Dollars, that is. There’s no question that I-5 needs major upgrades. Most of the bridges and interchanges in the vicinity of JBLM were built before 1960; the highway can’t be widened without rebuilding most of them and that will take a lot of time and even more money. We don’t have either right now. We need solutions that cost millions – not billions – and we need them today! That is why communities along the I-5 corridor support the JBLM / I-5 Congestion Relief Action Plan as a responsible interim strategy for improving mobility.

Letters of Support 


I-5 congestion in the vicinity of JBLM regularly makes the news. Following is a selection of stories about the effects on south sound communities and the base, and strategies to mitigate the impacts.

For more information contact Thera Black ( or call 360-956-7575.


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