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June 25, 2022

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Neighbors adjusting to life near Ilani casino

Opening a big disruption for La Center residents

By , Columbian Health Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Cars navigate a roundabout near the entrance of Ilani Casino Resort on Saturday. Traffic was heavy at times during the weekend but not nearly as bad as on opening day.
Cars navigate a roundabout near the entrance of Ilani Casino Resort on Saturday. Traffic was heavy at times during the weekend but not nearly as bad as on opening day. (Photos by Samuel Wilson for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

The long-anticipated Ilani Casino Resort opened to much fanfare last week, and with it came a traffic backup of more than 8 miles and lots of idling cars at the Interstate 5 interchange.

Those issues didn’t just frustrate drivers heading to the casino. They also irked those living in La Center who were diverted to back roads if they wanted to leave the city.

As the backup grew on I-5, La Center city officials decided to close the main road leading to and from the city. They put up signs on La Center Road at Timmen Road, directing people to use the back roads to the Ridgefield I-5 interchange rather than the La Center onramp near the casino.

“It was blocked off,” said La Center resident Jennifer Miller. “That seemed kind of wrong.”

“It’s our road,” she added.

La Center Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said the decision to reroute traffic was made shortly after the casino opened, when it quickly became apparent that traffic at the interchange was going to be a mess for a while. Residents weren’t prohibited from using the interchange, Sarvis said; the city just advised against it.

The city had plans in place to deal with increased traffic, but nobody anticipated the deluge of cars that backed up the freeway to the Interstate 5-Interstate 205 split within 90 minutes of the casino’s opening, Sarvis said.

“That was just overwhelming,” he said. “It’s like trying to fit 10 pounds of stuff in a 5-pound bag. It’s just not going to fit.”

All of the detouring also meant slow going on those back roads, Sarvis said. Residents heading north toward Woodland also encountered longer-than-usual trips. A 10- to 15-minute trip on Pacific Highway took 30 minutes or more, he said.

“We were trying to mitigate the impacts as most as we can,” Sarvis said. “But everyone was just taken by surprise.”

Efficient construction

La Center resident Chelsea Gaya knew when she saw the freeway backed up at 7 a.m. on her way to work in Camas that her evening commute would likely be rough. Despite that inconvenience, Gaya said she’s been pleased with how the construction for the project has gone.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “They’ve been efficient. They’ve been very courteous with the residents. … And they’ve always kept us moving, and I appreciate that.”

Some of the interchange construction wasn’t finished by the casino’s opening. Gaya suspects that had that work been completed, the traffic issues may not have occurred. She’s looking forward to the opening of a dedicated right-turn lane from the northbound offramp.

“That was a very nice feature that they added so that people like me who have no reason to head west can bypass that and go right into my town,” Gaya said. “As a resident and someone who doesn’t like seeing development on farm land, I’m pretty happy with it.”

Searchlights

While the opening-day backups and road closure were annoying, Miller said she’s confident the traffic problems will dwindle with time. She was more concerned by the searchlights she could see circling the night sky above the casino from her backyard.

“You’re pushing your boundaries to interfere with our stargazing,” Miller said. “If it’s just a week, fine. But if this continues all summer long, I’m not going to be happy.”

Casino officials said the searchlights were going to be used only during the opening week.

City officials hope traffic problems like those on opening day don’t occur again, but if they do, the city will be ready to respond, Sarvis said. The city put a reader board up near the bridge on La Center Road. That sign will be used to alert motorists of congestion at the interchange so they can plan their driving routes accordingly, he said.

City officials are planning for the board to be temporary, Sarvis said.

“I hope it’s temporary,” he said.

Columbian Health Reporter

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