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Jan. 16, 2022

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Woodland moves forward with plan for improved traffic signals at Exit 21

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Traffic on Interstate 5 approaches Exit 21 to Woodland, Cougar and state Highway 503.
Traffic on Interstate 5 approaches Exit 21 to Woodland, Cougar and state Highway 503. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

LONGVIEW — The Woodland City Council Monday voted to move forward with a design improving traffic signals to reduce congestion at the junction of Exit 21 and Interstate 5.

The interchange at the south end of the city handles traffic entering and exiting I-5 at state Highway 503. Traffic often backs up at the Exit 21 offramp and Highway 503 and Lewis River Road are heavily congested, especially during the weekday rush hour, according to project documents.

A study by engineering consultant Kittelson and Associates earlier this year proposed two types of designs: reconfiguring the traffic lights and intersections or building three new roundabouts.

Both concepts improve traffic flow, particularly for the Exit 21 northbound offramp, according to the study. The designs also have the same estimated price tag of about $13 million to $15 million.

The Washington State Department of Transportation typically prefers roundabouts because they have lower maintenance costs, said Tracy Coleman, city public works director.

At this point in the plan, WSDOT supports either option and will finalize support based on a technical review and community outreach results, according to an email from the agency to Coleman. The council can weigh in on its preferred option but the chosen plan is not final for WSDOT until construction is funded and the agency begins a final design, according to the email.

The council chose between funding the 30 percent design of either choice or both. It would save time to design both options because if one doesn’t work out, the city would have to go back and pursue the other, Coleman said. It will take about a month to award the bid and then about three months for the consultant to finish the 30 percent design, she said.

The 30 percent design will cost about $200,000, Coleman said. The city will save money on going forward with designing one option as long as it works out, she said.

Councilor Benjamin Fredricks voiced concerns that WSDOT would only support the roundabout plan even if the city chose the signal option.

The state will “do what it wants,” Councilor Dave Plaza said, but this is an “opportunity to let people know where the council is and which direction we want to go.”

Coleman said WSDOT would have to support the signal option if the 30 percent design shows it’s effective.

If the design does not show the signal improvements will help traffic flow, the council will likely have to move the roundabout option forward to 30 percent design, she said.

The council voted 6-1 to move forward with designing the signal option, with Councilor Janice Graham opposed.