In Our View: An Improved I-205 at 18th

Transportation officials planningtwo ramps to serve rush hour traffic

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When the Interstate 205 exit at Mill Plain Boulevard was improved in the fall of 2009 to expedite traffic to 112th Avenue, motorists saw a significant reduction in congestion throughout that area of Cascade Park. Each day, about 2,000 vehicles are using the new connector that takes traffic directly onto the avenue without having to negotiate the anthill intersection of Mill Plain and Chkalov Drive. Rush hours are still busy, but not as hectic as a few years ago.There’s more good news on the distant horizon. State and local transportation officials are proceeding with plans to construct a “half interchange” at Northeast 18th Street and I-205 with two ramps that are designed to enhance traffic flow, especially during rush hours.

Two preliminary concerns that local residents might have are easily addressed:

First, it’s true that the improvements are only on the distant horizon. Construction is not scheduled to begin until 2014. But when it comes to highway improvements during a lingering economic crisis, we’ll take anything we can get.

And even if residents have to wait longer than they would like, it’s encouraging to see Washington State Department of Transportation officials engaging the public in the process. An open house is scheduled for 4-6 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at the WSDOT Southwest region headquarters, 11018 N.E. 51st Circle. Visitors will be able to view displays and discuss plans with project officials. An access hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m., with transportation folks presenting plans and taking testimony from property owners.

Second, it’s true that plans call for only a half interchange. Again, though, we’ll take anything we can get. And realistically, a half interchange is sufficient to serve the bulk of what’s needed on this portion of the freeway. The project calls for an offramp from northbound I-205. This will provide evening rush-hour commuters an alternate interchange when heading northbound, while also reducing traffic around Mill Plain.

Conversely, an offramp that’s planned from 18th Street to southbound I-205 will allow morning rush-hour commuters another way to access the freeway, again reducing traffic in the Mill Plain area.

The 18th Street-I-205 project is drawing nowhere near the attention of other projects in the county, most notably the $3 billion Columbia River Crossing project. Another biggie is the $133 million Salmon Creek interchange at 139th Street, Interstate 205 and I-5, scheduled for completion in 2014.

Nevertheless, it’s good to see green shoots of progress, at least in planning the $94 million 18th Street project. It will serve as an excellent Phase II after the 2009 improvements at 112th Avenue.

Frequent travelers of I-205 are familiar with the rush hour congestion that not only clogs the freeways and surrounding areas but endangers the public with long lines on the ramps, where rear-end collisions are common. More than 100,000 drivers use this stretch of I-205 daily. It’s also encouraging to see Vancouver city officials working with state officials to put $94 million in 2005 gas tax revenues to good use.