Recent changes at several railroad crossings in DuPont and Lakewood have caused traffic delays and some confusion about the upgrades. While the changes reduce the risk of collisions between trains, vehicles and pedestrians, we know it has been frustrating for drivers and residents.
Drivers are waiting longer at signals before being able to drive through intersections. Though our intent is to reduce the risk of collisions, we understand the change hasn’t been as smooth as we would have liked and it caught some residents by surprise.
|A new traffic signal controller box is installed at the I-5 and Thorne Lane overpass in Lakewood.|
Our crews are working to identify possible solutions to this issue and we’ll keep residents updated on our progress.
Why were these changes made?
Upgrading signals and crossings reduces safety risks between drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and train passengers by keeping vehicles from being caught on tracks as trains approach. During our design process for railroad improvements, citizens and city officials identified safety as the top priority for their communities.
Starting this fall, all Amtrak Cascades passenger trains will be re-routed along the west side of I-5 through DuPont, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Lakewood and Tacoma into a new Tacoma Dome station. This is one of 20 projects to improve passenger rail service and add two additional roundtrips daily between Seattle and Portland. Counting the national Amtrak passenger trains, 14 daily trains will use the tracks on the new route, traveling at speeds of up to 79 mph. That change required crossing and signal upgrades at Exit 119 in DuPont, as well as those at Berkeley Street, Thorne Lane, and Bridgeport Way in Lakewood.
|The Point Defiance Bypass rail improvement project includes adding new signals in DuPont at Exit 119.|
All of these locations have experienced longer wait times in recent weeks, but it’s particularly noticeable at Exit 119 in DuPont. The signal upgrades synchronized all three signals at this intersection, allowing traffic to flow between the JBLM gate, the two highway ramps and the intersection of Barksdale Avenue/ Steilacoom-DuPont Road/Wilmington Drive. Motorists now must wait for the traffic signals to cycle through all three Exit 119 intersections, increasing the wait times for vehicles.
The intent of this new configuration is to keep the railroad tracks clear of vehicles at each crossing, thus reducing the risk of collisions. While this configuration helps address the safety concerns we heard from communities, we understand the issues that longer wait times are causing.
|A new railroad crossing signal on Thorne Lane in Lakewood aims to keep traffic clear of the railroad tracks.|
What we’re doing
We know the signal change is affecting daily commutes, as well as general travel in the area. We’re working with our partners, including Sound Transit, which is constructing this work, on identifying solutions. In the meantime, you may want to allow extra travel time through the area or consider any alternate routes available.
Some initial timing adjustments have already been made, but backups are still occurring, especially during rush hour. Our traffic and rail engineers are looking at other options, but with complicated, interconnected systems there isn’t an easy, overnight fix.
We’re looking at possible sign changes at Exit 119 from southbound I-5 on to Barksdale Avenue to make it clear vehicles can turn right on red if the intersection is clear. We’ve also already changed the timing to keep the arrow “green” longer, thus easing some congestion.
City leaders have been very proactive in identifying issues and proposing some solutions to help ease the congestion. We are keeping them informed of our work and we remain available to answer questions.
|New signals and signage help to ensure safety as part of the Point Defiance Bypass rail improvements at Exit 119 in DuPont.|
Longer-term corridor improvements between Mounts Road and Steilacoom-DuPont Road, including the Exit 119 interchange is scheduled for 2021 – 2024 as identified in the 2015 Connecting Washington funding package. Obviously, this is still several years away and won’t help resolve this immediate concern.
Despite the challenges, we remain committed to identifying and examining any adjustments or solutions that will reduce the congestion while still meeting the project’s safety standards.
Please be patient and safe
Despite the delays, please continue to obey all rail crossing signals.
We know waiting can be frustrating, but the dangers at rail crossings are real. While passenger trains aren’t yet using these tracks, some freight trains do occasionally run this route. Additional train testing will also be taking place as we lead up to the new service this fall.
Trains can travel in either direction, so even if you’ve seen one pass, the crossing isn’t safe until the lights and signal arms turn off. Trains often can’t be heard as they approach and are so heavy they can’t stop quickly, even if they do see someone on the tracks.
We thank drivers for their patience during this adjustment. Change can be difficult, and sometimes includes some unexpected bumps in the road, but our overall work will help improve safety at these intersections.