Leaders celebrate completion of Salmon Creek project

New interchange at Northeast 139th Street opens today

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

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Seventeen years after planning began, state transportation officials and local leaders celebrated the end of the $133 million Salmon Creek Interchange Project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.

The project’s centerpiece, a new bridge and freeway interchange at Northeast 139th Street, opened to traffic in time for the afternoon commute. Final touches should wrap up in the next few weeks, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

A parade of speakers praised the partnerships and effort that delivered the project four months early and $11 million under budget. The list included lawmakers from the 17th, 18th and 49th legislative districts — all of which are touched by the project area near the northern convergence of Interstate 5 and Interstate 205.

“This project is a model for WSDOT for the rest of the state,” said state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who represents the 18th District.

The Salmon Creek Interchange Project began construction in 2010. In addition to the new bridge at 139th Street, crews also made a host of other changes on and around the two freeways.

The four-stage effort also expanded I-5 between 139th Street and Northeast 179th Street, realigned I-205, improved local roads and built a new C-Tran Park & Ride lot. WSDOT and Clark County tackled the project jointly; planning and preliminary design work began as early as 1997.

The project aims to improve safety and alleviate congestion, particularly on nearby Northeast 134th Street. The end result adds capacity to an area that includes a major hospital, a university campus and routinely high traffic volumes.

Bryce Helgerson, chief administrative officer at nearby Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, noted the hospital that opened less than a decade ago is still growing and adding jobs. The interchange project will improve access for emergency responders and others in the community, he said.

“This will be used,” Helgerson said.

The revamped junction means traffic entering northbound I-5 must do so from 139th Street, a change that took effect well before Wednesday’s opening. Southbound traffic exiting from the freeway, however, will still dump onto 134th Street — not 139th Street.

Even with the new interchange, other existing connections at 134th Street will stay intact, giving the area two major interchanges functioning simultaneously for the first time. As speakers took turns at the podium Wednesday, a traffic signal overhead was already alternating green, yellow and red. Many attendees drove one of the new ramps on their way out.

Don Wagner, WSDOT’s regional administrator, gave special mention to Max J. Kuney Company, Rotschy Inc. and Coffman Excavation — three of the main contractors that completed the actual construction on the project. Other companies and agencies had a hand in the effort, he said.

“It does take a village to raise a bridge,” said state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. “We had a lot of partners.”

The Salmon Creek project also represents another milestone: It’s the last major project in the region that was funded by the “nickel” gas tax package approved in 2003, Wagner said. Of the project’s $133 million price tag, about $84 million came from the gas tax increase. The rest came from grants, federal funding and other sources, according to WSDOT.