Bridgeport Way: The Role of a Major Arterial in Town-Making

University Place, Washington

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


A section of Bridgeport Way in University Place, Washington, was the site of hundreds of crashes from 1996 to 1998. Besides being unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, the ugly road contributed little to the city's economic development or sense of place.


Image Source: Debbie Klosowski

Bridgeport Way is a significant regional arterial connecting Interstate 5 to State Route 16. Approximately 25,000 vehicles per day and a major transit route use the corridor, as well as local traffic and commuters. Before improvements, the 1.5 mile section that bisects University Place's main commercial area had five undivided traffic lanes (two in each direction and a shared center turn lane) with narrow gravel shoulders. Over 300 crashes occurred on this road section between 1996 and 1998; ten involved pedestrians and 91 resulted in injuries. There were no sidewalks or bicycle lanes; lighting was sporadic. Speeding, multiple access points, and narrow gravel shoulders added further dysfunction.

University Place is a residential community bordered by Puget Sound on the west, the City of Tacoma on the north, the Town of Fircrest on the east, and the City of Lakewood on the south. Thus surrounded, and with a small business district, University Place has experienced a great deal of sales tax leakage along with limited availability of goods and services. After incorporation in 1995, the City Council held a series of charrettes to identify residents' vision for the future. Creating a sense of place by developing a thriving, walkable downtown was one of the priorities citizens identified. Subsequently, the council approved a vision statement and goals for land use, economic development and transportation which emphasized walking, bicycling, infill development and aesthetic treatments for roads and developments.

Image Source: Debbie Klosowski

A safe and pleasant Bridgeport Way was essential to the council's plan for a walkable environment centered on a community gathering place. However, redesigning this major thoroughfare was both a political and physical challenge. The development team wrestled with these issues:

  • Multiple access points on both sides of the road encouraged drivers to attempt left turns by crossing two busy lanes of traffic;
  • Pedestrians attempted mid-block crossings to access bus stops and short cuts;
  • Mothers with strollers, senior citizens and schoolchildren walked along gravel shoulders next to busy traffic on the way to their destinations;
  • Without bicycle lanes, cycling was hazardous;
  • The absence of medians, landscaping and other amenities contributed to a "speedway" feel along an already ugly road.


Attracting private sector partners to help create a true downtown was a vital component of the community's vision. However, the City Council realized significant public improvements were needed along Bridgeport Way in order to jumpstart private investment in the area. The goals of the redesign project were to improve safety, increase mobility and cohesiveness, enhance the corridor, and control traffic growth.

After obtaining a grant from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board, the city initiated an extensive public process to redesign Bridgeport Way. Outreach efforts, which included newspaper, TV and website notices, fliers mailed to all property owners, posters, and overhead signs along Bridgeport Way, culminated in a design process of charrettes, public and neighborhood meetings, open houses, a Town Hall Meeting, and a public hearing before the City Council.

Two design alternatives emerged from this process. The first option proposed roundabouts; the second option involved landscaped medians. At the time, no roundabouts had yet been built in Washington; the community was skeptical despite the safety record and cost effectiveness of these facilities in other places. Therefore, the council chose the traditional alternative -- landscaped medians -- for the Bridgeport Way redesign. (Later a test roundabout was installed on another street; multiple roundabouts have since been built throughout the city.)

A 1.5 mile section of Bridgeport Way was reconstructed in three phases from 1998 to 2002, at a cost of approximately $8.2 million. A road diet reduced travel lanes from five to four, replacing the center two-way left turn lane with a raised, landscaped median with lights; planter strips along the corridor include streetlights that match the median lights. Bicycle lanes and sidewalks were installed on both sides of the road. Other improvements included:

  • Flared intersections to accommodate u-turns at signals for improved access to businesses and reduced crashes;
  • Mid-block pedestrian crossings with overhead signals;
  • Buried utility lines;
  • Enhancements such as decorative streetlights, hanging baskets, and a winding sidewalk that provides a visually pleasing walkway leading to a park near City Hall.


Image Source: Debbie Klosowski

The lane reduction along the corridor resulted in lower speeds and fewer mid-block collisions. Crashes have been reduced by about 60 percent and average traffic speeds by about 13 percent. Despite greater pedestrian activity and exposure to vehicle traffic, pedestrian crashes did not increase.

Physical changes along Bridgeport Way were instrumental in jumpstarting private sector economic development efforts, although the proposed Town Center project is still in flux. Public sector improvements such as a new Civic Building, library, parking garage and infrastructure are near completion. Studies indicated an increase in business revenues along the project corridor of approximately seven percent (citywide revenue increased five percent in the same period). Sales tax revenues along the corridor increased by 1.24 percent in 1997 (the year before construction), 7.73 percent in 1998, 5.64 percent in 1999, and 8.39 percent in 2000.


Approximately 20 percent of the Bridgeport Way project was paid for with local funds; 80 percent was funded with grants from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board, Washington State DOT, Puget Sound Regional Council, the Federal Highway Administration, and other agencies. Tacoma Public Utilities paid half the cost of burying the utility lines. In addition, business owners along the corridor donated the needed right-of-way, a value of approximately $500,000.

Phase 1A
.5 miles
1998-1999$2,215,103 for engineering, right of way, construction and inspection
Phase 1B
.5 miles
1999-2000$2,672,955 for engineering, right of way, construction and inspection
Phase 2
.5 miles
2001-2002$3,348,458 for engineering, right of way, construction and inspection
Total cost $8,236,516


Steve Sugg, Interim City Manager, or Jack Ecklund, City Engineer
City of University Place
3715 Bridgeport Way West
University Place, WA 98466

Filed in: Engineering, Plans and Policies, Case Studies

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