Photo from Flickr user womynspiritrise
There's been a bunch of buzz lately about Traffic and Mass Transit from Tacoma through the JBLM area to Olympia. As anyone who has ever ventured even close to the JBLM area knows, the traffic is horrendous and the public transit quite literally sucks. The worst backups can stretch for over 10 miles. As for public transit there are only 4 routes through the area all with very little coordination.
The traffic has been so exacerbated in the area due in large part to the increases in base population, but also nearby towns and cities that make up the total population of Pierce and Thurston Counties. As noted at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Growth Coordination Plan's (JBLMGC for short) website, population has grown substantially in the last decade. The following tables taken from the JBLMGC's website summarize how much the area has grown:
Ft. Lewis and County Growth
|Ft. Lewis||2000||2009||Net Change||% Change|
|Counties (including cities)||2000||2008||Net Change||% Change|
Municipal Growth in Study Area
|Municipality||2000||2008||Net Change||% Change|
|City of Tacoma||193,556||202,700||9,144||4.7%|
|City of Lakewood||58,293||58,780||487||.8%|
|City of Lacey||31,226||38,040||6,814||21.8%|
|City of DuPont||2,452||7,390||4,938||201.4%|
|Town of Steilacoom||6,049||6,255||206||3.4%|
|Town of Roy||260||875||615||236.5%|
|City of Yelm||3,289||5,150||1,861||56.6%|
A lot of people and media outlets have noticed and wrote about this issue as well as weighing in on what to do. Back in May, Tacoma Tomorrow wrote a series on traffic through the area including articles about I-5, the bus service and even the coming rail infrastructure. In time, the Northwest Guardian wrote a piece about how bad the traffic is in the area. More recently, Seattle Transit Blog discussed the issues and potential remedies. The Tacoma News Tribune and Olympian both agree that traffic is bad and something should be done about it.
Well what should be done about it? Surely there are a number of opinions on that as well. There has been talk of having the base have more flexible hours of operation, a call for widening I-5, and most recently a spur from the Tacoma News Tribune to get started on planning for better transit service.
So what is being done if anything by our government? Firstly, Tacoma Tomorrow highlighted in the previous Tacoma to Olympia series about the I-5 - Fort Lewis/McChord Transportation Analysis being performed by WSDOT. The final report from this study presented the predicted traffic operation improvements under scenarios that included upgrading interchanges and/or adding general purpose lanes to I-5. However, as mentioned earlier in the post, there is also the JBLMGC which has a more comprehensive analysis relating specifically to the base and also focuses more in depth on transit strategies. Some highlights from their draft plan transportation appendix include HOV lanes at gate entrances, increased transit service within the base and even the possibility of an integrated system of transit stops along the interchanges and just after the gates.
Regardless of all the talk and plans, action on improving the traffic situation is slow going. The On-Ramp blog noted WSDOT's efforts in providing better signal timing and more incident response crews. However, until some new construction of bigger and better transportation facilities occurs, or the population throughout the area declines, the traffic probably isn't going to get much better.