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May 27, 2022

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Clark Asks: Good news for drivers about ‘Goodwill Lake’

Motorists curious about why stretch of roadway floods so easily may be glad to know fix is coming

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
The seasonal roadway body of water known to some as “Goodwill Lake” is a common winter feature on Northeast 117th Avenue/state Highway 503 near Northeast 87th Street in Vancouver. For years, debris has clogged the road’s drainage system, causing motorists to literally make waves as they travel. But officials say a fix is coming.
The seasonal roadway body of water known to some as “Goodwill Lake” is a common winter feature on Northeast 117th Avenue/state Highway 503 near Northeast 87th Street in Vancouver. For years, debris has clogged the road’s drainage system, causing motorists to literally make waves as they travel. But officials say a fix is coming. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Battle Ground resident Dirk Parsons thinks of the introduction to an old television cop drama when he sees traffic drive through a notoriously flood-prone stretch of state Highway 503 after some heavy rain.

“It’s like the ‘Hawaii Five-0’ wave,” he said, referencing the big ocean wave featured in the TV show’s opening theme. “The cars just get doused, and you know they can’t see anything through the windshield.”

Known by some as “Goodwill Lake,” given its proximity to the Goodwill Outlet Store on Northeast 117th Avenue/Highway 503 near Northeast 87th Street north of Vancouver, this seasonal body of water has become a regular winter obstacle on the road since the mid-1980s.

Parsons asked The Columbian via the Clark Asks feature to find out what causes this section of road to flood and if it can be fixed. Apparently, lots of people want answers as well, because their votes shot Parsons’ question to the top in the latest Clark Asks voting round.

“They obviously know about it and get some complaints about it,” Parsons said, referencing the local agencies tasked with maintaining the roads.

Well, he’s right.

Bart Treece, spokesman for the Washington Department of Transportation said the agency hears complaints about the giant puddle fairly often — and employees have to explain why it gets clogged and how they’re trying to deal with it.

“It’s a chronic problem and clearly frustrating for a lot of folks,” he said.

But this year when people call about it, they’ll probably get a bit of welcome news. WSDOT plans on correcting the problem this summer.

When it rains, water on this stretch of Highway 503 drains directly into the ground rather than flowing into a sewer system. That system works well enough until debris, usually chunks of wood, clog the drains and the flood the roadway.

WSDOT will put out a sign warning people of the water on the roadway, but the floodwaters just sit there until maintenance crews can bring out a vacuum truck to suck out the blockages.

But until crews get around to cleaning it up, drivers have little choice other than to either slow down traffic or create a pretty sizable wave.

“Going up and down 503, and through the years … it seems to happen every winter,” Parsons said. While driving, “I look way down the road up ahead, see the brake lights come on and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ ”

This summer, WSDOT plans to hire a construction crew to replace seven drainage basins and build a drainage pond on the west side of the road.

“We hope this will solve a lot of problems out there,” Treece said.

Crews will also install digital highway message signs that will give drivers notice about road conditions up ahead. WSDOT knows the funding is there for the project, but the other details have yet to be worked out.

It’s too soon to tell exactly what the project is going to cost, but Treece expected it to be $1.5 million or less. The agency will announce a contractor and a construction schedule in the coming months.

Treece said Highway 503 has been on WSDOT’s statewide list of roadways with drainage issues for some time, but because they all compete for funding, the more dangerous sites were taken care of first.

“So while it may be one of those things people dread as they’re driving … we have other drainage projects that are worse and they may be more than a nuisance,” he said. “We try to tackle the worst first, and this time this project’s number is up.”

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