Clark Asks: Is one driveway enough for Salmon Creek apartment complex?

A new 124-unit apartment complex in Salmon Creek will have one driveway for access. One neighbor worries it won’t be enough.

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer

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While everyone else plays armchair engineer about freeway lanes and interstate bridges, Bill Craig is scratching his head over a driveway.

The upcoming 134th Street Lofts, at the intersection of Northeast 134th Street and Northeast 23rd Avenue, will have five stories and 124 housing units but just one driveway for entry and exit.

Craig sees a traffic snarl lying in wait. The Vancouver developer behind the project disagrees.

“The entrance is so close to that interchange, there’s just no maneuvering,” said Craig, a retired U.S. Navy reservist and former telecommunication salesman. “But it might be a tempest in a teapot.”

A resident of nearby Mount Vista, Craig has watched for years as billboards promising various projects popped up on the vacant lot. He also noticed the property was pinched between Interstate 205 to the west and a gully to the north.

Though Craig, 67, doesn’t pretend to be an engineer, he said he wondered how a development would fit into the bustling area. It is near the convergence of I-205 and I-5, with nearby onramps and offramps to boot.

“It’s congested as it is now,” he said.

When the lofts open in April, the only point of access will be the driveway onto Northeast 23rd Avenue. That street is a two-lane channel running between Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center and The Vancouver Clinic.

A median will also be built to make sure entry and exit into the lofts will only be possible with right turns. Craig said he now expects even more congestion.

“They’re going to circle the wagon — make a big circle around Legacy or make some stupid move in the clinic parking lot,” he said. “I’m sorry, I just gotta chuckle.”

Kirkland Development, the Vancouver firm backing the project, doesn’t expect problems. Kirkland bought the property in 2007 and has spent $14 million developing it, with expectations of tapping into the growing health care sector.

“We bought it during the crash,” said owner Dean Kirkland. “There are other apartments around there that have done very well. And I like the employee base.”

According to permits, 93 units will be apartments and another 31 units will offer extended stays, an alternative for people who otherwise might stay in a hotel for weeks or months at a time.

Kirkland argued that tenants will appreciate the single driveway. He said the lofts have “a very intimate feel. It has a great feeling of security.”

Likewise, representatives for the Clark County Public Works department, who approved the access, said they did not expect any adverse impacts.

A traffic study submitted before the project’s approval found that the site would generate 697 trips per weekday, including 53 during the morning rush hour and 62 trips during the peak evening rush.

The study, conducted by Charbonneau Engineering, found that nearby intersections would have “acceptable levels” of traffic and that no improvements were necessary. The study was conducted in April 2012.