First construction step on SR 167 extension set to start next year

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Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

It’s not often that the City of Tacoma spends road dollars on a street project in Fife, but that’s what is happening through a “local match” to keep the construction of the final leg of State Route 167 on track.

“I typically don’t provide grant matches for projects in another city,” Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver said. “I’ll provide letters of support but not money.”

But that’s the case in a plan to finish SR 167 sooner rather than later.

Follow the bouncing ball on this one. The state budgeted about $2 billion toward the Puget Sound Gateway Program back in 2015 that would fund the bulk of work for two mega projects, the completion of SR 167 and work on SR 509. That money requires grants as well as local contributions, namely about $70 million from local governments and business groups. The Port of Tacoma has already pledged $30 million of that local total, leaving Tacoma, Puyallup and other cities to foot the bill for the remaining $40 million, however the cities figure out.

“That is a difficult conversation to have,” Kingsolver said.

Rather than drafting agreements about lump “contributions” from the cities, however, the idea now is to segment the different aspects of the SR 167 project into smaller projects that the cities can fund through grants for which Washington Department of Transportation doesn’t qualify. Chopping up parts of SR 167 into smaller bits not only opens them to grants but also provides direct benefits that cities will back with their “contribution” dollars in the form of grant matches. Fife is funding $1.8 million, for example. Puyallup and Pierce County are each kicking in about $2 million.

The SR 167 Completion project will build the remaining four miles of SR 167 between SR 161 (Meridian) and I-5, completing a long-planned connection to I-5. This project also includes a 2-mile new connection from I-5 to SR 509. These improvements will provide two lanes in each direction from Tacoma to Puyallup. The project will also build five interchanges located at SR 509, 54th Avenue, I-5, Valley Avenue and SR 161 (Meridian). The environmental documentation for the project includes the ability to add HOV lanes in the future. map courtesy of WSDOT

“That’s a much easier conversation to have,” Kingsolver said.

Tacoma, for its part, is set to pledge $500,000 in grant matches to the City of Fife’s effort to expand 70th Avenue from two to four lanes. Tacoma will also pledge $1.5 million toward the Port of Tacoma Spur that will help redirect truck traffic off Interstate 5. Fife gets help with a project. Tacoma speeds WSDOT’s SR 167 work chugging along with grant dollars the state couldn’t get otherwise, further leveraging local dollars so they stretch as far as possible.

“It’s one large project that benefits all of us,” Kingsolver said.

Work on Fife’s 70th Avenue project is set to start in 2019, making the first step of SR 167’s final leg, something that has been talked about for decades. The Port of Tacoma, however, remains the only port on the West Coast without a dedicated roadway between the shipping terminals and their warehouse and distribution centers. SR 167 solves that with sections of it being built since first envisioned in the 1950s. It currently runs from Renton to Puyallup, however. The last leg with finally tie it directly to the tideflats. The completed roadway will not only allow for faster freight shuttling between the port and warehouses but relieve some congestion on I-5 by taking those trucks of that roadway. But the road won’t be completed until 2031.

Anyone who commutes on I-5 sees the work going on there to further improve traffic flows, and the spring construction season will bring changes sooner than that however. The eastbound SR 16 ramp to northbound I-5, for example, has been reduced to a single lane to let crews finish the M Street to Portland Avenue commuter lanes. More notably perhaps is that the end is here for the temporary split of the southbound I-5 lanes around Tacoma’s downtown exit. The caution barriers are coming down, reopening new roadways on all southbound lanes.

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