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News / Clark County News

WSDOT unveils 3 options for Highway 500

Proposals focus on intersections at N.E. 42nd Ave./Falk Road, N.E. 54th Ave./Stapleton Road

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 24, 2018, 8:04pm
2 Photos
Vehicles traveling east on state Highway 500 wait at the stoplight at Falk Road road during rush hour in late February. WSDOT is considering three alternatives to change the intersection to improve safety and travel times in the corridor. The agency is hosting an open house May 3 to get the public’s feedback on the concepts.
Vehicles traveling east on state Highway 500 wait at the stoplight at Falk Road road during rush hour in late February. WSDOT is considering three alternatives to change the intersection to improve safety and travel times in the corridor. The agency is hosting an open house May 3 to get the public’s feedback on the concepts. Ariane Kunze/The Columbian files Photo Gallery

The Washington State Department of Transportation is proposing substantial changes at two intersections on Highway 500 and they’re looking for the public’s response to the proposals.

Working with local government agencies, WSDOT has released three different concepts for the future of Highway 500 at the intersections of Northeast 42nd Avenue/Falk Road and Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road.

WSDOT estimates that 30 percent more people are using Highway 500 today than about 10 years ago. But in the last five years, there have been just under 400 crashes on state Highway 500 around the two signalized intersections, according to WSDOT. That translates to about one crash every four days. Tellingly, nearly three-quarters of all those crashes were rear-end collisions involving multiple vehicles.

“The primary cause is those lights in the context of growing traffic volumes, plus driver inattention,” said Carley Francis, WSDOT regional planning director. She added that reducing the number of crashes in the corridor is why WSDOT wants to change the intersections’ layout. “Those lights are in the portion of the facility we have the ability to control and address.”

If You Go

• What: WSDOT will host an open house on three concepts it has proposed for Highway 500. It will be an informal open house. Residents can drop in at their convenience to discuss the topics with WSDOT staff.

 When: The open house will be 4 to 7 p.m. May 3.

 Where: Roosevelt Elementary School, 2921 Falk Road, Vancouver.

 To learn more: WSDOT is holding an online open house on the concepts May 3 to May 25. To participate, visit sr500safety.infocommunity.org.

What began as a higher speed east/west alternative to Fourth Plain Boulevard has become an increasingly congested and dangerous corridor. Through the years, WSDOT has gradually converted several intersections along 500 into high-speed interchanges, such as those built at Northeast St. Johns Road and Northeast Andresen Road. The agency doesn’t have the money for substantial projects like building overpasses, nor has the state Legislature funded any, so it’s now looking for “practical solutions” that can be done for around $5 million.

The agency has narrowed possible solutions down to three different options:

• Option 1 — Eliminate the stoplights by cutting Northeast 42nd Avenue/Falk Road and Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road away from Highway 500. A new grade-separated pedestrian and bike crossing would be built at Northeast Stapleton. Those four roads would end in cul-de-sacs. On 500, crashes would drop by an estimated 90 percent, travel times would be greatly reduced and traffic delays could be completely eliminated.

People who would otherwise get off at one of the four roads would now have to use Northeast St. John’s or Northeast Andresen Road. The project’s costs are estimated to be between $3 million and $4 million.

• Option 2 — Adopt a right in/right out concept where cars would only be able to take a right on to or off of Highway 500. Taking a left would require taking a right on 500 then making a U-turn at either Northeast St. Johns or Northeast Andresen. This option would also eliminate traffic lights. Crashes would be reduced up to 70 percent, and travel times would be greatly reduced and traffic delays could be completely eliminated.

Again, a pedestrian over- or underpass would be built at Stapleton Road. This project would cost between $3 million and $4 million.

• Option 3 — Create a restricted crossing U-turn road. This design is more complicated than the other two. It’s used in only a handful of other states, and would be the first of its kind in Washington. This design allows for right-only turns out of the two intersections. But between them would be a signalized median U-turn that would allow drivers at Northeast 54th and Northeast Falk to make a “left turn.” It would be large enough to cater to fire trucks and tractor-trailers, but drivers coming from Northeast Stapleton would have to turn around at Northeast Andresen to go west. Drivers at Northeast 42nd would have to go down to Northeast St. Johns to go east.

WSDOT believes this project would reduce crashes by as much as 45 percent. Travel times on 500 would slightly improve, but traffic delays would be reduced by up to 70 percent. However, drivers on the side roads would either save about 30 seconds in delays or see an extra minute of delays, depending on where they’re going.

Pedestrians would cross Highway 500 at Northeast Stapleton in two phases, rather than walking across in one. This proposal is the costliest, expected to run between $4 million and $6 million.

“We were looking for cost-effective options that would help with safety,” Francis said of the more complex and costly of the three options. “This is being open to whatever solutions are out there.”

All three options would likely increase the number of trips drivers make on Fourth Plain Boulevard, Northeast St. Johns Road and Northeast Andresen Road.

Before drafting the three concepts, WSDOT released a survey last month which received more than 2,500 public responses. People said they valued safety, travel times, and access to — but not crossing — Highway 500 as their top three priorities.

WSDOT plans to host an open house on May 3 to meet with the public and get feedback on the concepts. An online open house will also be hosted throughout most of May.

“As we hear what those points of feedback are, we will look at them in context of what we’ve developed so far and figure out whether there are refinements that we can make to an alternative to meet needs better,” she said.

Francis said the agency is not considering roundabouts as an alternative because the number of drivers that use Highway 500 put it “right on the edge” of what’s safely acceptable for a roundabout intersection.

Hypothetically speaking, “some portions on the roundabout might need three lanes and that’s outside what we’ve done in the state,” she said.

Conversely, Highway 14 at Washougal, where WSDOT is planning to build two roundabouts, is well within the acceptable volume. That road sees about 14,000 average daily trips, whereas Highway 500 sees around 60,000.

Whatever option is settled on, regional WSDOT leaders would still have to appeal to the department for funding. However, WSDOT sets smaller amounts of funding aside for safety-related projects, so getting the necessary funding for these kinds of improvements would likely come much sooner than if they had to wait for the Legislature to approve a new transportation package.

“There’s no funding right now for implementing anything out of this study, but we will be looking to — with that preferred concept — to seek funding as soon as possible,” Francis said. “The department, because of the importance of safety … has some safety (funding) they can use. There is a statewide prioritization process for that, so there is a little competition.”

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