Orchard Drive extension now open, renamed

New Birchwood Avenue first freeway underpass since I-5 opened

January 28, 2022 - by Amy Cloud, Communications and Outreach

A long-awaited project to add the first I-5 crossing since the interstate opened in Bellingham in 1964 is now complete and open to traffic. 

The I-5 underpass and connection street are vital for significant anticipated urban growth in the northern portions of the city.  In preparation for increased population and traffic, the new street will improve vehicular safety, improve emergency access to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, and help reduce current traffic congestion problems at the Sunset and Meridian crossings of I-5 by providing a multimodal arterial street between James Street at Birchwood, and the Squalicum Parkway and Birchwood Avenue intersection.

“This new freeway underpass and connector route is important not just for Bellingham’s northern neighborhoods, but the entire City,” said Eric Johnston, Public Works director. “In addition to a new option for first responders, Birchwood extends our city’s network for cyclists and pedestrians.”

The Orchard Drive extension arterial includes sidewalks, bicycle lanes in each direction, a stoplight at the intersection with James Street, and a new watermain and stormwater collection system. The new street, now named Birchwood Avenue, creates a direct connection from the King Mountain Neighborhood to the community’s only hospital.

At James Street and Orchard Drive, a stoplight is in place to control traffic in the intersection.  The west end of the new street at Squalicum Parkway is controlled by a stop sign.  Signs are present in all locations to provide notification of these changes.

Johnston noted that final completion and opening was delayed due to supply chain issues. Final paving of the extension project was completed in the fall of 2021.  Since that time, the new street was closed to traffic while awaiting delivery of light poles. 

He said this important project was made possible through the success of solid partnerships in transportation planning between the City, Whatcom Transportation Authority, Whatcom County, Washington State Department of Transportation, the state legislature, local businesses, PeaceHealth network and adjacent neighbors. 

“The long-term planning work of local agencies and WSDOT coupled with the tremendous financial support of legislators to meet the long term needs of this region is a success worth celebrating,” said Johnston.

Those with questions or seeking more information are encouraged to contact City of Bellingham Public Works department via AskPW@cob.org or by phoning (360) 778-7700.

Media Contact

Amy Cloud, Communications and Outreach

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