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Oct. 30, 2020

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Casino opening clogs traffic on Interstate 5

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter, and
, Columbian Breaking News Reporter
3 Photos
The parking lot at Ilani Casino Resort in La Center was at capacity during the grand opening, Monday April 24, 2017.
The parking lot at Ilani Casino Resort in La Center was at capacity during the grand opening, Monday April 24, 2017. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Excitement over the opening of the Ilani Casino Resort near La Center turned to frustration for many drivers Monday when they found themselves trapped in  miles-long backups on Interstate 5.

Northbound traffic was backed up as far as the Interstate 5-Interstate 205 split — a distance of more than eight miles — within 90 minutes of the casino’s 10 a.m. opening time. Traffic was also clogged approaching the Cowlitz Reservation from the north.

The backups continued for hours as the casino’s parking lots reached their capacity, leaving motorists no place to go. The gridlock began to break up later Monday afternoon.

Emergency crews worked to set up reader boards to alert motorists of the parking situation and warning of the lengthy delays so they could make other travel decisions, said Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Treece.

“We’re working to try to manage it to keep people moving safely on the interstate,” he said.

La Center Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said there wasn’t an unusual amount of traffic in the city as of Monday afternoon. The city set up detours into and out of La Center using Timmen Road to help residents avoid the interchange.

Among other impacts, the heavy traffic led to the postponement of a match between the Columbia River and Woodland girls golf teams at Lewis River Golf Course.

Officials at Ilani turned to its Twitter account to relay information about the status of parking lots and encouraging patrons to carpool. They thanked WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol and law enforcement officers from Clark County, Ridgefield and La Center for their assistance.

Kara Fox-LaRose, president and general manager of the casino, said Monday that officials could only guess at the traffic volume for the week, but the casino has already added more flaggers and patrols to help drivers find empty parking spaces.

The casino has about 3,200 parking spaces in its one main parking lot and two auxiliary lots. Shuttles that casinogoers might see on the grounds are only for employees, who have been asked to park at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, and people who park in the auxiliary lots.

“We’ll continue to ask our team members to park at the events center so we can create more space for our guests,” she said.

The casino contracted Kittelson & Associates to manage its traffic planning. There are no official shuttles between the casino and local cities, and Fox-LaRose suggested people carpool or use ride-hailing services.

Treece suggested motorists take a peek at traffic cameras before heading north on Interstate 5 so they can factor the traffic patterns into their travel plans.

Reporter Troy Brynelson contributed to this report.