Puget Sound Gateway Will Improve Freight Mobility in Northwest U.S.

Construction is under way on the Puget Sound Gateway Program in Washington’s South Puget Sound region. WSP USA is serving as the program management consultant and as the general engineering consultant on one of the major projects.

After nearly 30 years of planning, Washington State is beginning work on the creation of new and improved roadways that will significantly improve movement of freight from two of the busiest ports on the West Coast.

The Gateway Program includes two projects for the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT): Completion of State Route 167 (SR 167) in northern Pierce County, and completion of State Route 509 (SR 509) in southern King County.

“The Gateway Program will complete two missing links that connect the state’s two largest marine ports and largest airport, thereby relieving ‘last mile’ congestion for the $9 billion in annual freight exports arriving from eastern Washington and northern tier states,” said Jeanine Viscount, program manager for WSP. “The Gateway Program will also better serve key distribution centers in King and Pierce counties, relieving congestion on other roads.”

WSP is serving as the program management consultant (PMC) for WSDOT on the Gateway Program. In this role, WSP directs a team that provides WSDOT with strategic planning, program management, program and project controls, government relations support, public communications, engineering and technical services, transportation planning, real estate strategies, preparation of grants and agreements and quality assurance. The firm also serves as the general engineering consultant for the SR 167 Completion Project, with Daniel Babuca as the project manager. WSP has been working with WSDOT on the Gateway Program since June 2016.

“Our overall objective with these responsibilities is to provide WSDOT with consistency and reliability in execution across the program,” added Mike Rigsby, who served as the initial program manager for WSP.

Major stakeholders include the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma, and several local jurisdictions.

An October groundbreaking celebration attended by numerous lawmakers, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, marked the start of construction on the $2 billion program, targeted for completion by the summer of 2028.

“These two projects will help Washington state stay competitive in the global marketplace by providing critical ‘last mile’ connections between the west coast’s second-largest distribution center and the ports of Tacoma and Seattle,” Gov. Inslee said at the ceremony. “This is exactly the kind of smart investment we need to make to address our transportation priorities because it pays dividends that include thousands of new jobs, easier access to our ports for Washington state products, and more transportation choices.”

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©2019 PHOTO COURTESY OF WSDOT

WSP’s Mike Rigsby (left) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (right) exchanged greetings at the start of the construction celebration for the Puget Sound Gateway Program at the Port of Tacoma on Oct. 1.

Better Connections

The SR 167 and SR 509 projects are divided into two major construction stages, with the Stage 1 projects to be constructed through 2026. WSDOT will construct the Stage 2 projects between 2024 and 2028.

The SR 167 project will extend the highway four miles westward, connecting with Interstate 5 (I-5), and continuing as a spur for SR 509 near the Port of Tacoma. Interchanges are planned along the new six miles of highway at SR 509, 54th Avenue, I-5, Valley Avenue, and State Route 161.

“The SR 167 Completion Project will provide a better connection between the Port of Tacoma and the Puyallup/White River Valley for freight and linkages to manufacturing and industrial centers,” Babuca said. “In addition to the freight mobility benefits, the project will implement significant environmental enhancements through the Riparian Restoration Program that will restore wildlife and aquatic habitat, improve water quality, improve floodplain management, incorporate wetland mitigation and improve connectivity to local pedestrian and bicycle trails.”

The first stage of the SR 167 Completion Project also includes reconstruction of the 70th Avenue Bridge, new connections with State Route 99 (SR 99) and 20th Street East, and construction of a new public interurban trailhead.

The SR 509 Completion Project will provide a better connection between the Port of Seattle and the Green River Valley for freight, connectivity to a new southern access to Sea-Tac International Airport, and linkages to manufacturing and industrial centers. It will extend the highway 2.5 miles southward, connecting I-5 with new access connections into the Green River Valley, as well as improving the existing I-5 to Federal Way.

This phase of the SR 509 Completion Project also includes construction of a new bridge for SR 99, and retaining walls along I-5 between the guideway and the southbound collector/distributor roadways.

“These new alignments are expected to ease congestion, improve freight mobility, improve access to and from Sea-Tac Airport, increase safety and lower travel times,” Viscount added.

Both highway projects are currently in the initial stages of construction.

Widespread Benefits

The movement of cargo through the Puget Sound offers enormous economic benefit to the region and nation. Washington is the second-most trade-dependent state in the U.S., and exports are a key driver of job growth and economic prosperity.

Although intended as an improvement for freight travel, the Gateway Program is expected to bring multiple benefits to all motorists using these roadways. Benefits include:

  • Regional mobility. The new highways will reduce traffic congestion on local roads by completing connections and providing alternate routes to I-5.
  • Freight connections. The Gateway completes critical freight links between Puget Sound marine ports and industrial areas of South King and North Pierce counties.
  • Airport access. The program provides a new connection between I-5 and Sea-Tac Airport from the south for both passengers and air cargo.
  • Regional job and economic growth. The program supports regional job growth and economic growth associated with the state’s two largest ports.
  • Intelligent transportation. Tolling will help improves safety and manage congestion.
  • Advanced wetland mitigation. The program included provisions designed to improve water quality and wildlife habitat by completing environmental improvements in advance of both projects.

“By including variable-priced, open road tolling, the Gateway Program will provide sustainable capacity for efficient operations of all lanes of the new SR 167 and SR 509 segments, which will yield consistent and reliable travel times in both corridors,” Rigsby said.

Tolling will also contribute at least $180 million in capital funding from the program. WSP’s Advisory Services also provides tolling support services to WSDOT under “toll financial support” and “general toll consultant” agreements with the department’s Toll Division.

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©WSP USA

WSP’s Jeanine Viscount (left) and Daniel Babuca (right) serve in leadership roles on the Puget Sound Gateway Program and the SR 167 general engineering consultant team to WSDOT.

Faster Delivery

The Puget Sound Gateway Program is funded by the Connecting Washington Revenue Package through a combination of state gas tax revenues, tolls, local contributions, and potential federal grants. Originally, Washington lawmakers intended to spread funding for the program over a 16-year period ending in 2031. However, WSP helped WSDOT make an economic and financial case for accelerating the program to significantly cut the target for completion.

“We were able to demonstrate the benefits to travelers, businesses, and the public at large from delivering the program sooner,” said Brent Baker, WSP tolling and finance lead for the program. “Our Benefits of Program Acceleration report was used to help convince the Washington State Legislature to advance the funding—and thereby accelerate the completion of the program—by three years.”

Developing a bond of trust has been one of the key foundations of a successful collaboration between WSP and WSDOT, allowing for both organizations to operate as fully integrated members of a program/project delivery team with a common objective.

“We work in an environment of trust and collaboration as part of a blended team of WSDOT and consultant staff,” Viscount said. “The level of trust and collaboration is exceptional and leads to a lean, agile, and efficient organization that is culturally aligned. It is a great opportunity to be able to work side-by-side with WSDOT to deliver these important projects for the citizens of Washington.”

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