Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Cowlitz County cities are looking to fix two congested I-5 exit ramps


LONGVIEW — Cities are aiming to ease traffic at two Cowlitz County Interstate 5 exits.

Kelso officials plan to study Exit 39 near the Three Rivers Mall in 2023, and Woodland officials are looking to go out to bid on the redesign of Exit 21, near the Oak Tree Restaurant, next year.

The Kelso City Council voted in November to begin a traffic corridor study for the area around Allen Street and Exit 39. The study will be the first step toward determining if changes need to be made to relieve the intersection of congestion.

Woodland is continuing plans to address congestion around Exit 21. By the end of December, the city plans to post a request for an engineering firm to create a design and cost estimate for a redesign of the intersection.

Both of the upcoming projects have been awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments

The focus on Kelso’s Exit 39 began in 2020, when the council of governments and the Washington State Department of Transportation conducted a planning study for state Route 4 in Longview and Kelso. That report includes small recommendations to improve the route, which becomes Ocean Beach Highway, Cowlitz Way and Allen Street as it goes through the cities.

“The work we did was focused on the state route,” said CWCOG Executive Director Bill Fashing. “This work Kelso is doing now will include more a direct look at the I-5 interchange on Allen Street.”

The council of governments awarded $389,000 to Kelso for the Exit 39 and Allen Street study. The Kelso City Council agreed to pay the remaining $60,900 to Transpo Group USA for the study of Allen Street between Eighth Avenue and 17th Avenue, as well as the freeway ramps and nearby sections of Minor Road and South Kelso Drive.

The study in Kelso will include traffic counts and other data collection, public hearings and the evaluation of multiple design options. The final report to the City Council will highlight the best set of improvements and sources of funding for the city to pursue, according to Transpo’s proposed scope of work.

Woodland has received $3.2 million for the Exit 21 engineering designs, with any unspent money going toward the eventual construction. Those funding sources were split between $2.6 million from the Cowlitz County commissioners through the federal COVID-19 relief funds given to the county and the remaining $600,000 awarded through CWCOG.

Woodland officials are aiming for the project to be a serious contender for federal funding.

“I believe that if we can get this to a shovel-ready project next year, it will make us more desirable and likely to get we need for the final stages,” Woodland Mayor Will Finn said.

The first phase of studies and public comment about the Exit 21 redesign took place in 2019 and 2020. That process narrowed the design down to two options: a design with multiple roundabouts or an additional traffic light and a series of lanes for drivers heading directly into Clark County from the exit.

The Woodland City Council voted in November 2020 to go ahead with the stoplight option, which will be the focus of the incoming design project.