Portland’s notorious Delta Park bottleneck, which has vexed Vancouver-area commuters for decades, will temporarily expand from two lanes to three beginning early Friday.
The Oregon Department of Transportation, trying to ease construction-related congestion that has gripped the Portland metro area over the past several weeks, has directed contractors on Interstate 5 to work only during the night beginning this week.
The change will enable general contractor Hamilton Construction to free up one southbound lane that’s used to stage equipment during construction hours — allowing daytime motorists to take advantage of all three lanes well ahead of the project’s scheduled completion date at the end of October.
“We recognized we’ve got some mobility challenges around the area,” said Brad Wurfel, an ODOT spokesman in Portland. “This is one lever we knew we could pull that would relieve some congestion in this one spot.”
The $60 million project, which began in April of 2008, adds a third lane and shoulders to a 1.2-mile stretch of I-5 that spans Columbia Slough and Columbia Boulevard. In addition, onramps and offramps connecting I-5 to Columbia and Victory boulevards are being extended and realigned.
The new construction schedule calls for contractors to close a single lane each night at 11 until 5 a.m. On nights when workers need to close two lanes, the first will close as early as 8 p.m.
“This is just an adjustment to the work schedule for this project,” Wurfel said.
Even so, it should make life smoother for Vancouver-area commuters who have endured the dreaded bottleneck for years. Motorists heading south into Portland have had to squeeze from three lanes down to two near Delta Park, typically causing traffic backups even during the weekends.
As of Friday, daytime commuters will be able to cruise along on three lanes just as they do heading northbound.
Of course, one of those northbound lanes is designated for high-occupancy vehicles.
The Oregon Department of Transportation will decide whether to designate a southbound high-occupancy vehicle lane by the time the project is completed in October, according to an environmental analysis issued in December 2006.
A six-member bistate hearings panel, which included then-Mayor Royce Pollard of Vancouver and current Portland Mayor Sam Adams, recommended state transportation planners consider a southbound HOV lane partly because local, state and federal transportation policies support “transportation options other than the single-occupancy vehicle.”
By opening up a third southbound lane now, officials expect it will help ease congestion compounded by a $5.5 million project to replace aging deck joints on the Interstate 205 bridge across the Columbia River. That project has closed two of the four northbound lanes during several weekends since early May. Workers will move across to the southbound span of I-205 in mid-July, making it even more imperative to open an extra southbound lane on I-5 sooner rather than later.