Woodland road plan shocks businesses

Narrower pavement, approved two years ago, changes traffic

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 

WOODLAND — The way Darlene Johnson sees things, narrowing a road in an industrial area and building roundabouts that are difficult for trucks to maneuver is no way to attract new businesses or keep existing ones happy.

But Johnson, co-owner with her husband of Woodland Truck Line Inc. on Schurman Way in Woodland, is irritated by the small details as well as the large. The city’s decision to narrow Schurman Way, which came as a surprise to Johnson and other business owners, also eliminates a shoulder that she and others used as a bike lane.

“It’s just crazy,” Johnson said last week, eyeing newly installed curbs that cut six feet off a roadway just off Interstate 5 that serves distribution companies. “Who would have thought something like this could happen?”

Johnson and her business neighbors on Schurman Way learned the size-shrinking details of the road project when an employee of PDM Steel Service Center asked a road construction worker about the job. Word spread quickly. A petition circulated among business owners in the Woodland Industrial Park on May 20, and a rushed meeting was set for a week later with Mayor Chuck Blum.

But already it was too late. Blum did not respond to requests for comment, but in a May 26 letter to Woodland Industrial Park business owners, he wrote that reconstructing the road at 44 feet would add $450,000 to the project’s cost, of which the city would pay an estimated $364,000. The project as it now stands will cost $1.86 million, including $622,000 for a new roundabout at Schurman Way and Dike Access Road.

Schurman Way has certainly been a wide street, covering 44 feet. Its lanes, one in each direction and a center lane, are 14 feet wide, with a 1-foot shoulder, or fog line, on each side. The reconstruction, required in part because of deteriorating pavement, reduces the roadway to 36 feet and the travel lanes to 13 feet. The reclaimed space between the old and new curbs was being filled with dirt last week.

Johnson says that the extra width now allows long trucks to enter and exit driveways without having to swing into opposite-direction lanes. The one-foot shoulder on each side also offered a measure of safety for bicyclists. Cyclists often used Schurman Way on their way from town to the Columbia River.

Then there are those roundabouts. The Washington State Department of Transportation constructed two of them on Dike Access Road to improve traffic flow between the freeway and Walmart, which opened in February. The new roundabout will be at the junction of Dike Access Road and Schurman Way.

Tough for trucks

The roundabouts are designed with a low-rise section, elevated 3 inches above the paved surface, designed to accommodate truck wheels. But Nelson Holmberg, the Port of Woodland’s executive director, says truckers complain that top-heavy loads are unstable when trucks climb the 3-inch rise, while low-lying trucks bottom out.

The port was trying to recruit one tenant that would have brought an new company to the area, but “when they found out about roundabouts decided not to come here,” Holmberg said.

Chris Tams, WSDOT’s Columbia Gorge area engineer, said the agency’s regional administrator was concerned that the roundabouts are rough on truck tires and a “pretty significant bump” for truckers. The pavement around the roundabouts, installed in winter weather to accommodate Walmart’s opening, is already deteriorating and will need to be replaced at no cost to the state, Tams said. WSDOT will ask the contractor to modify the pavement to shrink the 3-inch height difference, he said. Tams said he believed the roundabouts were working well overall.

Steve Branz, Woodland’s public works director, said city officials scoped the Schurman Way project early in 2009. Woodland’s public works committee, which includes three City Council members, approved the narrowing of the street at that time as a way to trim costs, he said. “It was brought to the (city) council’s attention that this was the course we wanted to go,” he said.

The engineer still feels the project is a good one, but acknowledges that the city should have talked to the property owners.

While Johnson appreciates an acknowledgement of errors along the way, she’s irate that nothing will change as a result.

“Everybody makes mistakes, but a business goes out of business if it doesn’t correct its mistakes,” she said. “Government will leave the mistake, and we have to live with it.”

Gordon Oliver: 360-735-4699; gordon.oliver@columbian.com