Camas officials see roundabout as gateway to city, link to future

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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After months of work, things have finally come full circle at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Northwest Norwood Street in Camas.

On Tuesday, crews finished the final paving for the new roundabout, completing work that started May 31.

The city-funded $2.2 million project was designed not only to improve congestion and safety at the intersection, but also to be a new way to welcome people to the city.

There is still work to be done at the intersection, such as landscaping, according to Steve Wall, the city’s public works director. Wall said city officials are still in discussion about what to place in the center of the intersection.

“There’s been some interest in local artists contributing something,” Wall said. “We’re talking about ideas and concepts, and what could represent the community well.”

Wall said city officials are also hopeful they can continue to develop the area near the roundabout to connect it to other parts of Camas.

“That whole Sixth Avenue is a gateway corridor,” Wall said. “We’ll look at different improvements that could happen. There’s the redevelopment on the north side of Sixth, and if we could tie into that, that would be great.”

The roundabout could be the start of redevelopment that leads all the way from the city entrance to downtown Camas, Wall said.

“It’s important to try and connect folks with downtown,” he said. “That would be one of the goals, in general. Camas is really known for its downtown. There are good things happening there, but there are good things happening around the rest of the city.”

In a presentation at an open house for the roundabout work, city officials cited safety as a key reason for going with a roundabout as opposed to a traffic signal.

The Washington State Department of Transportation’s website uses data from Institute for Highway Safety and Federal Highway Administration studies to show that roundabouts typically achieve a 37 percent reduction in overall collisions, a 40 percent reduction in pedestrian collisions, a 75 percent reduction in injury collisions and a 90 percent reduction in fatality collisions.

“From a traffic perspective, what roundabouts do is they allow slow flow through the intersection instead of stop-and-go, like you’d have at stop signs or lights,” said Jeff Schmidt, senior civil engineer with the city of Vancouver.

Schmidt worked on the Northeast 137th/138th Avenue Improvement Project, which saw the addition of three roundabouts to the city.

“It generally reduces the number of accidents,” he said. “It’s still a learning curve for people. We don’t have a lot of them in the Northwest. There’s a lot more up north. There are still a few accidents, but, generally speaking, they’re much lower speed and they’re not right-angle accidents. They’re glancing accidents.”

Part of the reason for that, Schmidt said, is because people aren’t driving straight into the roundabout, so if a driver does hit someone, the car usually doesn’t T-bone another car.

While the city heard plenty of complaints about the roundabouts while putting them in, Schmidt said that has quieted over the years.

Schmidt also said roundabouts help calm traffic in multiple ways. Drivers slow down to enter the roundabout and don’t speed up to try to beat a light.

The Camas presentation also listed lower maintenance costs as another benefit of roundabouts, along with the fact that they always work, even in a power outage.

Roundabouts also provide gateway opportunities, like the one Camas officials are discussing. But landscaping the center island isn’t only a way to make the roundabout attractive.

“It’s a visual cue for a driver on the road that it’s not just a straight road,” Schmidt said. “There’s something ahead. The idea is you give up something that blocks the visual aspect of the road ahead so they realize they’re coming up ahead to something they need to make a decision on.”