On May 14, 1969, the final section of Interstate 5 opened between Everett and Marysville, forever changing life in the Puget Sound region and completing a new road link to Vancouver, British Columbia. The last of some 276 miles of concrete and asphalt that had been laid down in sections for twenty years had opened up a new frontier for sprawling communities and left U.S. Highway 99 behind to decline.
Now, at over a half-century old, I-5 is something of a necessary evil in eyes of many who live here. Its use of left-hand exits causes traffic to weave and jam, the use of reversible express lanes creates a bottleneck for reverse commuters, and it creates a visual, auditory, and olfactory barrier between the neighborhoods it slices through. But it is also the backbone of the state’s freight movements and our regional express bus system, which is among the best in the nation.
At 50 years of age, I-5 is now chronically congested, seismically vulnerable, and has maintenance issues that often require emergency repairs during the middle of rush hour. The I-5 Systems Partnership was formed by local governments to study near-term solutions and develop a master plan for the 107-mile central corridor, which stretches from Tumwater to Marysville and includes 60 percent of the state’s population (some 4.3 million people, of whom 3.3 million are licensed drivers).
Last month, the I-5 Systems Partnership published its draft call to action, highlighting several proposed solutions to patch and repair our way out of traffic and misery, rather than endlessly expanding the freeway. The report estimates that $5.1 billion would be needed by 2040 to maintain the freeway and its bridges while also upgrading seismically-vulnerable structures and fix pavement issues. With the vast majority of gas tax revenues needed to pay off debt service for other projects, other funding sources will have to be found, such as a congestion charge or per-mile fees.