Federal Way’s I-5/HWY 18/HWY 161 interchange project is a work in progress

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By Jacinda Howard
Federal Way Mirror
The state Senate is keeping $109 million for Federal Way’s “triangle project” intact.
The money, distributed from the Senate’s roads budget, will remain earmarked for the project — the Interstate 5/Highway 18/Highway 161 interchange — for another year.
The interchange was constructed in the 1960s and is no longer safe to accommodate daily traffic, plagued with traffic collisions and back-ups. The city and Washington State Department of Transportation are collaborating on the funding efforts.
Federal Way has chased funds for the better half of a decade, assistant city manager Cary Roe said.
Construction will be completed by the Washington State Department of Transportation, but Federal Way has a strong interest in the project due to its proximity to the city’s busiest and largest intersection: Highway 161 (Enchanted Parkway) and South 348th Street. The intersection features triple left-hand turns and cannot safely get any larger, Roe said. Addressing the triangle area will improve safety at the intersection.
To date, just shy of $112 million of the proposed $240 million needed for the project has been secured. Gas taxes, federal money and existing state funds all contributed to this. The project received a big boost in 2005 when it got the $109 million from the state, much of it from gas taxes.
But the money is not a sure thing. Each year during its budget cycle, the state can choose to re-allocate dollars it has dedicated to the triangle project toward another state effort, Roe said.
Local legislators and city staff ramped up their efforts to convince the state that taking away triangle project funding now would be detrimental. Making a case for the project this year was difficult due to the state’s budget crisis.
Maintaining the $109 million in state funding guarantees that work on the project will continue.
Two cloverleaf loop ramps will be replaced with “flyover” ramps to serve traffic traveling westbound Highway 18 to southbound Interstate 5 and eastbound Highway 18 to northbound Interstate 5.
Direct access to Highway 161 from southbound Interstate 5 and westbound Highway 18 will be served by new exit ramps at South 356th Street and South 359th Street. Other improvements are also scheduled. The work will eliminate weaving traffic and is slated for completion in an undetermined number of phases.
Design work and environmental assessments on the first phase will wrap up this year, and construction is expected to begin in early 2010. Construction will last until 2013. Holding on to the $109 million makes this work possible, Roe said. Future phases will begin as funding is available.
Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way) is a leader in the state Senate in fighting for the triangle project. She has been behind it since its beginning. City staff has lobbied for federal money for the project for several years. City council members and staff traveled to Washington, D.C., at the end of March where they attempted to capture money for the triangle and City Center Access projects, Roe said.

Jacinda Howard is a writer for the Federal Way Mirror. She can be contacted at jhoward@federalwaymirror.com.