What's Up with That? Connecting 'stumps' of Highway 501 can't happen

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



I love driving up state Highway 501 from Vancouver. Around Vancouver Lake and north of there is one of the most beautiful areas of the county. I would drive this road more if it also served a practical purpose, but heading north you are stopped by barricades in the road, and an old, dilapidated road continues. Being so close at that point, it seems it would make great sense to connect with the northerly part of state Highway 501 (Pioneer Street) or make some other connection into Ridgefield and/or Felida. Are there any plans to make such a connection?

— Luke in Vancouver

It may seem like a no-brainer to extend those two dead-end stumps of state Highway 501 to what seem like logical connections, Luke — until you step out from behind the wheel and consider the bigger picture.

State Highway 501 has two names out there to the west, but they're really diverging segments of the same road. The Erwin O. Rieger Memorial Highway rounds the west side of Vancouver Lake and ends just a few hundred yards southwest of Felida Moorage, which is down Northwest 122nd Street from Felida Community Park; Lower River Road veers farther west and goes north past Frenchman's Bar, hugging the Columbia River and dead-ending with Ridgefield's namesake ridge distantly visible to the northeast.

You could just reach out and touch your destinations, right? Except, there's this little matter of thousands of acres of state- and federally protected wetlands and wildlife habitat in the way — not to mention railroad tracks, steep slopes, flowing rivers and other natural stumbling blocks. Plus what must be millions of dollars in roadbuilding costs. "We have no plans to extend those roads," said Abbi Russell, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Transportation.

If anything, the state is shortening, not lengthening, the pavement out that way. You may have seen a recent Columbian storydescribing the state's decision to install a safety gate on the remotest section of Lower River Road, in anticipation of the day erosion inevitably drops the pavement into the Columbia River. "It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," Department of Transportation maintenance superintendent Bob Kofstad said. And you must have seen, or felt, the jarring concrete gaps on dead-end Rieger Road, aimed at stopping drag racing out that way?

Look at it this way, Luke: If we punched a highway or two across those wetlands and wildlife habitat — so you could enjoy the scenery while driving out this way for a truly "practical purpose" — wouldn't the increased traffic, the trucks, the drag racing, the litter and noise, ruin the very beauty you wanted to admire?

Got a question about your neighborhood? We’ll get it answered. Send “What’s Up With That?” questions to neighbors@columbian.com.