In Our View: Already? At St. Johns?

That's right; the new interchange is open ahead of schedule, under budget

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Might you be in the mood for a feel-good story about a bridge? Perhaps a warm and fuzzy yarn about a bridge built ahead of schedule and under budget? Impossible, you say?Well, if you read last Thursday's Columbian, it was right there on Page C1, with a color photo of important people sitting in folding chairs on an interchange ramp, listening to even-more-important people talk about cutting a ribbon.

They had plenty of reasons to be happy about the fancy new interchange in central Vancouver, where a new bridge carries St. Johns Boulevard over state Highway 500.

We suspect the first words exclaimed by many motorists passing by in recent days have been: "What? Already?" Indeed, the $48 million interchange was finished three months ahead of schedule, thanks to the finer talents and teamwork of the Washington State Department of Transportation and lead contractor Tapani Underground Inc.

And project engineer Leon Winger of WSDOT told us Friday afternoon that the new intersection will come in under budget, although by how much won't be precisely known for a few weeks.

Chief beneficiaries of the new interchange are the 65,000 or so motorists that pass through daily. About a decade ago, the 3-mile stretch of Highway 500 between Interstate 5 and Andresen Road was designated the most dangerous road in seven Southwest Washington counties.

But this most recent project marks the fourth intersection where stop lights have been replaced by overpasses. Earlier projects were at Northeast 112th Avenue/Gher Road, Thurston Way (near the mall) and Andresen Road (near many car dealerships).

There's another beneficiary in this story: Travelers on the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail. The St. Johns interchange features a realigned trail that keeps walkers, joggers and bicyclists at street level with a much safer crossing. Now, the trail meanders a short way north to near Arnold and Petticoat streets. A temporary signal currently is positioned at the trail crossing of St. Johns, and Winger said a permanent signal -- operated by pedestrians -- will be in place in the next week or so.

Although all ramps are in use after last week's ribbon-cutting, work still remains on landscaping, noise walls and paving. And here's a cautionary reminder for motorists: Don't let the new interchange lull you into a false sense of security. Dangerous, signalized intersections still wait for travelers on Highway 500 to the east at Falk and Stapleton roads.

Kudos to the designers, planners and construction crews for expediting the project and making travel on both roads safer and quicker.