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Dec. 9, 2019

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Neighbors oppose Highway 500 plan

They say work set to begin this month will create variety of issues

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: October 9, 2018, 8:11pm

Work to reconfigure state Highway 500 at two problematic intersections could be completed this month, provided the weather holds out. Transportation planners say the project should reduce traffic accidents, but neighbors are worried about pedestrians no longer being able to legally cross the highway.

The Washington State Department of Transportation plans to overhaul the intersections at Northeast 42nd Avenue/Falk Road and Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road, replacing the traffic signals with right-in/right-out interchanges.

Highway shoulder work is set to begin Monday. Intersection reconfiguration and lane restriping is set for the last weekend of the month beginning at 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26 until 4 a.m., Monday, Oct. 29.

However, the entire project is weather dependent. So the schedule could be changed accordingly.

Cascade Bridge won the contract to do the work for just less than $1 million.

Around 60,000 vehicles per day travel Highway 500; about one crash every three days occurs in the two-mile area encompassing the intersections.

WSDOT believes reconfiguring the intersections to allow only right turns will cut the current collision rate of about 80 crashes per year down to as low as 24 per year.

But as a consequence, the crosswalk at Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road will be removed.

This summer, WSDOT counted 30 pedestrians and 10 bicyclists per day crossing the highway at the intersection.

The lack of a crosswalk is meant to be temporary. WSDOT expects it will be three to five years before it secures funding to build a pedestrian over- or underpass at 54th/Stapleton.

While the cost of the reconfiguration is less than $1 million, WSDOT is seeking around $6 million. The extra money would build the pedestrian crossing and improve surrounding roadways that require improvements as a result of shifted traffic patterns related to the project.

In the meantime, WSDOT has worked out an agreement with C-Tran to provide free shuttle service around the intersection. Riders will have to make reservations. On the hour, a shuttle will pick them up from a spot just north of Highway 500 on 54th and take them to a station on Stapleton. Then, at 10 minutes after the hour, it’ll take passengers from Stapleton to 54th.

“The idea is to have it available while the connection is severed,” said Carley Francis, WSDOT regional planning director.

Neighbors complain

Several neighborhood associations adjacent to the 54th/Stapleton intersection said the project WSDOT is delivering isn’t the same one the agency brought them earlier this year. Leaders of the Truman, Roads End and East Minnehaha neighborhood associations say WSDOT initially told them a new pedestrian crossing was part of the plan. But about a month later they discovered that the agency dropped the crossing from the first phase of the project.

On Tuesday, the neighborhood association leaders, as well as a handful of other residents, urged the Clark County Council to intervene.

A few weeks ago they also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that people with mobility issues will be particularly burdened by a detour that’s more than a mile long. They also accuse WSDOT of not verifying alternative pedestrian routes are compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“Our suggestion for a better solution would be to wait and do a complete project when all funding is secured,” the letter reads. “This would ensure the safety of all concerned rather than piecemeal the project so that we are not trading auto accident (sic) with injuries for possible pedestrian deaths.”

David Benedictus, chair of the Truman Neighborhood Association, said there are few if any sidewalks on the roads pedestrians might use to detour. On top of that, Truman Elementary is set to be rebuilt in the next few years, which he expects will mean part of the street will be temporarily blocked.

Benedictus said he remembers when WSDOT planned to build a vehicle and pedestrian overpass over Highway 500. The project never happened due to lack of funding. Now, he and his neighborhood fear the same thing will happen with the pedestrian crossing.

“We’re concerned that without that dedicated funding that we never get that access back across there, and we’ll have put more cars on our neighborhood streets for a dedicated period of time and we have to live with that,” he said.

Francis said WSDOT is aware of the complaints, but hasn’t made a formal response.