An aerial photograph shows construction of the Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 interchange on July 21, 1966, looking north toward Seattle. The construction of the highways divided the city. COURTESY PHOTO/State of Washington Archives

Highways divide a city: The controversy over I-5, I-405 | Tukwila’s Story

  • Mon May 15th, 2017 3:00pm
  • Life

By Richard McLeland-Wieser

Tukwila Historical Society

A huge boondoggle that will ruin a great place to live; or a wonderful opportunity to bring growth to our city. In the 1960s, there was no shortage of opinions about building two interstate highways straight through the heart of Tukwila.

One side argued Interstates 5 and 405 would destroy neighborhoods, bulldoze dozens of homes and businesses and displace hundreds of people. Police and fire vehicles would have to travel further resulting in loss of property and even lives. Blocked by a wide ribbon of concrete, children would no longer be able to walk to school. Noise and air pollution would increase. Home values would plummet. The city would lose tax revenue. And it would be just plain ugly.

Others believed residents would have shorter commutes. Tukwila would explode with retail, office and warehouse development. Tax dollars would flow into city coffers resulting in more services to residents. People would want to build homes close to shopping and work.

I-5 did not have to cut Tukwila in half. There were alternate routes. One alternative followed the route of present day State Route 509 running west of SeaTac Airport. In the end, the state Department of Transportation decided to plow straight through Tukwila.

When the construction dust settled, people buzzed by at 60 miles per hour thinking Tukwila was just Southcenter Mall. Both opponents and proponents were correct.

The Upper Foster neighborhood was decimated. People were forced to move. Small businesses that served the neighborhood closed. The school district lost 16 percent of its students. It was, and remains, harder for students to get to school. The buzz of traffic noise is unending. To this day, home values are below other King County communities.

On the other hand, population grew from 1,804 in 1960 to 19,107 in 2010. Residents have shorter commutes. People move to Tukwila because of easy access to transit, Seattle and the Eastside. Schools were built to serve more students. Southcenter is a huge regional shopping destination. Where cows once grazed, forklifts buzz through warehouses. Thousands more people are employed in Tukwila than live here. The city of Tukwila is fortunate to have a generous tax base resulting in superb services to residents.

Did Tukwila benefit from the interstate highways? Was it a boondoggle? The Tukwila Historical Society wants to hear from you.

Richard McLeland-Wieser is president of the Tukwila Historical Society, which operates the Tukwila Heritage and Cultural Center, 14475 59th Ave. S. The center’s phone number is 206-244-4478, and the email is


The Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 interchange construction looking south on July 21, 1966. COURTESY PHOTO/State of Washington Archives