WSDOT insists I-5 through Tacoma is safe; Troopers say majority of big-rig crashes due to driver error

TACOMA, Wash. – It took hours for crews to clear up after a big-rig slammed into the concrete barriers on I-5 Tuesday morning.

Troopers blamed the driver, but it’s the eighth time a big-rig crash has caused big-time back-ups in just about the same area in past six months.

The state patrol says this stretch of road has always been a magnet for crashes even before all this construction came around. Troopers say they’ve tried safety campaigns and emphasis patrols, but it didn’t stop this morning’s wreck.

For Tuesday’s crash, Troopers say the driver of the semi lost control in the south bound lanes and slammed through the barriers. Investigators believe speed, wet conditions and inexperience is to blame. It took crews about four hours to investigate, clean up and reopen both lanes of traffic.

“We understand the importance of I-5 throughout Pierce County,” said WSDOT spokesperson Cara Mitchell. “When something breaks down it affects everyone and so we look at response times, and that includes getting a tow truck there faster than normal, so they’re not stuck.”

But Tuesday morning’s crash is just the latest in a string of big-rig crashes in just about the same area of I-5 through Tacoma.

It’s an area where WSDOT is working to resurface the freeway and connect I-5 to SR-16’s HOV lanes – but the lane configurations are again about to change early next month.

“We can start moving traffic onto the new southbound I-5 alignment and that will take us out of this temporary configuration that we’ve been in since last May,” said Mitchell.

Last month Troopers pulled over hundreds of drivers during a commercial vehicle emphasis campaign.

“Several of them happened in a short time,” Trooper Andrew Stoeckle said at the time. “So, we’re doing an emphasis trying to educate drivers.”

Troopers say the next emphasis won’t be publicized and WSDOT insists the freeway is safe.

“Absolutely it’s safe,” said Mitchell. “It’s built to federal standards and state standards.”

The common theme for most of the high-profile accidents, say troopers, speed and weather played a big part. WSDOT says every driver should slow down and pay extra close attention in construction zones.

“Over 200,000 people use this highway every single day and they get it, they’re getting through there just fine,” said Mitchell.

So, even after the SR-16 HOV lanes finally join I-5 there is still more work scheduled. Construction on a new southbound Puyallup River bridge has already begun. Plus, even further south near Join-Base Lewis McChord, drivers should plan for multiple lane closures as new bridge work begins later this year.