The Judybaker, my wife of nearly 20 years whose observations and
questions often enhanced the Road Warrior column, won’t be gracing
it any longer. She was taken from me June 20 by a grotesque
abdominal infection that grew out of a June 9 surgery.
Her suggestions and contributions to Road Warrior are just a
tiny part of what I miss about her.
I want to thank all of you who learned of her death and sent
expressions of condolence and sympathy.
A couple of columns I had finished before she died have appeared
since her death but this is the first one I’ve tried to write
with her gone.
The in basket: My visits to the hospital the week following the
initial June 9 surgery, done in Federal Way, made me realize how
much harder getting around is between there and Tacoma compared to
what we Kitsappers imagine to be traffic congestion. Every day,
seemingly at any hour, from the Tuesday of the surgery to the
following Saturday, it was miles of vehicles crawling southbound on
I-5. Fortunately, I mostly got to see it from the northbound lanes
after fighting my way past equally bad backups of those trying to
get from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5.
I wondered if what I saw is just the day-to-day norm there, or
if something unusual caused it all. And while all the construction
on I-5 near the Tacoma Dome certainly will make it easier to get
from Highway 16 onto northbound I-5, it isn’t obvious how it could
help the southbound jams.
I asked State Trooper Guy Gill of the Tacoma my first question,
and Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state Department of Transportation
my second one.
The out basket: Guy told me the southbound congestion comes and
goes and it doesn’t take much to get it started.
“We have our normal little fender-bender crashes, and when we
have one in that corridor past the Tacoma Dome down into Fife, we
are seeing people going to the shoulder with tow trucks and
everyone likes to look at that stuff. (Backups) will set in from a
crash like that and it will take hours to filter out.
“We ask folks to move both vehicles completely off the freeway,
find a parking lot or and let us know where you are. If you can
steer it, clear it.
“At least clear the lane. It’s up to the trooper to figure it
out. Troopers will ask you for a written statement.”
He also put in a pitch for keeping the smart phone out of sight
when driving, or you might cause one of those
Claudia replied, “The HOV lanes we are building will help both
directions of I-5 traffic. We have two construction projects
underway at present; one will add an HOV lane in the northbound
direction between Portland Avenue and the Port of Tacoma Road; the
second one will add HOV lanes in both directions between M Street
and Portland Avenue.
“We have yet more construction coming down the pipeline after
these two projects are complete that will add a southbound HOV lane
between Portland Avenue and Port of Tacoma Road and an HOV roadway
and ramp connections at the I-5/SR 16 interchange.
“These projects are all very large and take several years to
complete. We are using the opportunity to not only expand I-5, but
to rebuild all lanes of I-5 within each project. I-5 was built in
the 1960s and the concrete needs to be replaced. The result is many
traffic shifts and realignments that cause construction-related
“So the answer to your question is yes, the current construction
will help traffic flow better through Tacoma when it is complete,”
I wish I had greater confidence in the worth of HOV lanes to
reduce congestion, but I’ve also learned that the state’s traffic
engineers have a good track record in solving problems (not
counting the driving surface of the Warren Avenue Bridge in
Bremerton) so I’ll take their word for it.