Traffic is smoother in the Camas-Washougal area these days, we're glad to report. And merchants along state Highway 14 had a new spring in their step as of Wednesday. An unwieldy detour was eliminated and motorists were allowed to use the new portion of the highway, with overpasses at Union and Second streets.But as the $50 million project continues to unfold in southeast Clark County, there's another component that cannot be measured by driving minutes saved or retail dollars added. It's the safety factor. There's no way of knowing precisely how many accidents will be prevented, how many lives will be saved or how many families will not be traumatized now that state Highway 14 is safer in these two communities.
For decades and especially since the turn of the century as growth accelerated throughout the county, state Highway 14 has been especially dangerous through Camas and Washougal. Multiple intersections — both signalized and without traffic lights — were producing on average almost one major accident per week, many resulting in fatalities. One particularly dangerous spot was the West Camas Slough Bridge, where four lanes narrowed to two, with no median or barrier to prevent head-on collisions on the bridge. Remember, this is no minor road. State Highway 14 is a major corridor for commuters and one of two major arteries connecting the Vancouver-Portland region with the Columbia River Gorge and beyond.
Now, though, there's cause for celebration by residents of both cities as well as through-travelers. Wednesday's opening of the highway's new overpasses has alleviated the detour congestion, and a steel barrier is in place on the West Camas Slough Bridge. Kudos to the Washington State Department of Transportation and lead contractor Tapani Underground Inc. for the improvements.
Admittedly, there are still driving challenges in the area as construction continues. Speed limits are reduced to 45 mph in some areas, even 25 mph in one stretch. Work continues on the bridge, mostly during night hours, and two lanes funnel into one in several places. But as of Wednesday, there was a noticeable improvement, and we look forward to final touches being applied in coming months.
One warning to anyone who dislikes roundabouts: This project could produce frustration for you. There are twin roundabouts in two places: on each side of the highway at Union Street in Camas and at Second Street a few blocks east in Washougal. Other motorists, though, might like the quadruple roundabouts. A tour of the area mid-day Wednesday revealed the many benefits of roundabouts: no stop signs or stop lights, no left turns and no threat of head-on collisions. We're guessing local residents will quickly adjust to the roundabouts.
We're also happy for merchants in the area. "It can only get better compared to what it was," Mitch Hammontree said in a Wednesday Columbian story. He owns a Quiznos franchise near state Highway 14. Dave Fletcher of One Stop Home Furnishings said, "It was a tough haul for a while there for a lot of folks," despite temporary signs around the construction describing the businesses.
Many people wanted to see the West Camas Slough Bridge widened to four lanes, but that project has been put on indefinite hold because of budget constraints. Still, there's a slight widening of the bridge and, more important, a median barrier separating the two lanes.
It's good to see the progress on state Highway 14 in Camas and Washougal.