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'Once-in-a-lifetime project' will connect Puyallup to Port of Tacoma

It’s a project that’s been talked about for decades, a much-needed cure to the congestion from semis going to and from the Port of Tacoma.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — A lot can happen in three decades. Cities change and neighbors come and go. But Fife resident Warren Walsborn and his family stayed. 

“Probably about three or four years after I was here, then I started getting notices that we’re going to take your property,” Walsborn said. 

Twenty-five years ago, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was acquiring land for a new expressway project connecting I-5 to the Port of Tacoma. They initially wanted Walsborn’s land, but he did not sell. 

He’s now one of the only houses still standing on his street. 

“It’s been a rollercoaster of, 'Do I have to move? Can I stay? Where do I go?'" Walsborn said.

The new expressway will be close to his home, but he can stay put. Construction began this summer to alleviate the semi-congestion butting up to his backyard in Fife.

Truck traffic has been a problem for years. The vision of this connector talked about for decades.

“There was a gap in time primarily through the latter part of the ’70s and ’80s where very little happened,” said John White, program administrator for the Puget Sound Gateway Program.

The early lack of money from the legislature stalled this project, but since getting funding in 2015, WSDOT has been working to get it finished.

“When you see these corridors open up, it will transform things for these communities that surround the missing links,” White said. 

The project will connect Highway 167 where it currently ends in Puyallup to I-5 in Fife and over to the Port of Tacoma. It will be about 4 miles of highway to get to I-5 in Fife. The highway will go through fields that are currently farmland and over 20th Street before connecting to I-5 and crossing over the interstate and Pacific Highway. 

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From there, it will form into a "diverging diamond" interchange which allows vehicles to enter and exit the highway more easily,  ending with another 2 miles to the Port of Tacoma.

“This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects," said Tom Slimak, the WSDOT project engineer:  

WSDOT is also creating miles of biking and walking trails and investing in climate resiliency. 

“So we have over 150 acres of wetland mitigation, stream creation and habitat creation that we're doing that we call a Hylebos Restoration Program,” Slimak said.

The Fife expressway will be completed in 2026. The entire project is on track to be completed in 2028. White said the impact tonFife will be transformative.

The expressway will have tolls, which WSDOT said will be based on the time of day. You’ll pay more during high peak times and less when traffic is low. The state legislature decides on tolls.

In the last 20 years, WSDOT has acquired 150 pieces of land and portions of 50 parcels. They still need to acquire eight full pieces of land and eight partial acquisitions.

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