Highway 14 drivers to see big shifts as project progresses

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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As construction crews prepare to shift gears on state Highway 14 near Camas and Washougal, drivers passing through the area can expect to shift routes.

Early next month, workers will close the highway between Union and Second streets, temporarily sending traffic onto a new two-lane frontage road to the south. The diversion will steer vehicles away from traffic lights on the highway, but instead introduce them to a pair of roundabouts and a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. The highway speed is now 45 mph through the construction zone.

“It’s really different for drivers who are used to kind of cruising through there,” said Abbi Russell, a Washington Department of Transportation spokeswoman. “The signals will be gone, but it’s just a different feel.”

WSDOT is widening and raising the highway in an effort to better accommodate traffic and freight movement through the corridor. The $50 million project will expand the highway to four lanes from the end of but not including the West Camas Slough Bridge to Sixth Street in Washougal.

A new bridge next to the East Camas Slough Bridge will expand that span to four lanes. Much of the new structure is already in place, but crews won’t open it until its connections and the rest of the project are near completion, said WSDOT project manager Chris Tams.

Tams said a date for the traffic shift farther east hasn’t been set yet. Some of the work is weather-dependent, though officials expect it to happen in early March, when the project’s second stage begins.

In the meantime, workers are focusing on final touches such as striping and traffic signs to make the transition smoother, Tams said. On Wednesday, crews also switched on a temporary traffic signal at the east end of the project area.

As soon as the shift happens, crews will start digging out the existing highway. Plans also call for raising the highway by as much as 25 feet, sending it up and over Union and Second streets near the Camas-Washougal boundary. To save money, workers will also lower Union and Second where they pass under the corridor, Tams said. That keeps crews from having to raise the highway even higher, he said, which would only add to the cost. But it doesn’t mean the end result won’t surprise some people.

“It’s going to be a drastic change from what it is today,” Tams said of the 25-foot elevation. “That’s two and a half stories. It’s a big change.”

The traffic shift is expected to last about six months. The entire project is slated for completion in late 2012 or early 2013.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.