The Washington State Department of Transportation has released details about an upcoming $10 million improvement project for a stretch of East Mill Plain Boulevard and the East 15th Street couplet through downtown Vancouver, aimed at preparing the corridor to handle future growth.
The corridor is a primary feeder route to I-5 for downtown traffic and freight trucks coming from the Port of Vancouver. WSDOT worked with the city and the port to plan the project. The corridor is signed as state Highway 501, so it’s in the state’s jurisdiction.
The project is scheduled to begin May 3, starting with improvements at multiple intersections along the Mill Plain and 15th Street couplet, according to a press release from WSDOT. Paving work is planned to begin July 26 and will continue through the summer, with most of the paving happening at night. The project is scheduled for completion at the end of the year.
The work will require two weekend closures: one at the Mill Plain Boulevard and Washington Street intersection, and the other at the Mill Plain Boulevard and Main Street intersection, according to WSDOT. Both closures are scheduled to take place in June.
The planned improvements include upgraded pedestrian crossing signals, new ADA-compliant curb ramps, upgraded traffic lights at several intersections and a new pedestrian-activated flashing beacon at the southbound Interstate 5 off ramp to Mill Plain Boulevard.
The corridor’s existing bike lanes will be relocated to the curb side of the parking lanes and be widened from 4 feet to 5.5 feet, with a 2-foot buffer. The lanes will be painted green at the intersections.
Several sections of sidewalk will be rebuilt to repair damage and displacement caused by overgrown tree roots. The city of Vancouver will replace about 30 trees along the corridor, installing new trees with smaller root systems.
The project will rebuild the intersections where Mill Plain Boulevard crosses Washington and Main streets to allow for better freight access. The current intersections have high points in the roadway and low-hanging traffic lights, according to WSDOT, which occasionally cause trucks with oversize loads to have to detour through nearby city streets.
Instead of the current configuration of three 12-foot travel lanes, the upgraded corridor will feature two 11-foot travel lanes and one 12-foot travel lane in order to free up space for the expanded bike lanes. There will be 7-foot parking lanes on either side of the street and the bike lane and buffer on the right-hand side. The reconfiguration will result in a net loss of about 15 street parking spaces throughout the couplet, or about two or three per block, according to WSDOT.
The full project zone extends from the intersection with Fort Vancouver Way on the east side of the freeway to the intersection with West 26th Street at the entrance to the Port of Vancouver, although most of the work other than repaving will be concentrated in the Mill Plain and 15th Street couplet.
“It’s effectively two projects in one construction window,” said WSDOT communications manager Tamara Greenwell — the repaving along the full length of Mill Plain from the port to the freeway and then all the other upgrades in the downtown couplet.
The upgrades are being handled by McDonald Excavating Inc. at a cost of about $7 million, using money from the 2015 Connecting Washington state funding package. The repaving work does not yet have a contractor lined up, Greenwell said, but is expected to cost about $3 million.
Vancouver is currently working on a separate project to replace the sewer and water main lines beneath Broadway between East 13th Street and East McLoughlin Boulevard, which intersects with the Mill Plain corridor. The city is focusing on the south end of the Broadway corridor first so that the sections of the pipe beneath Mill Plain and 15th will be in place before the WSDOT project begins.
Greenwell said WSDOT has received some public comments asking why the project wasn’t done last summer when traffic was lower due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The design work wasn’t complete at the time, she said, and contractors currently need several months of procurement time ahead of projects involving traffic lights due to steel shortages, so it wouldn’t have been possible to fast-track the work.