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Clark County plans roundabouts at two 179th Street intersections

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 29, 2022, 6:05am
4 Photos
Motorists navigate a four-way stop at the busy intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 29th Avenue north of Vancouver.  A roundabout is planned for the intersection.
Motorists navigate a four-way stop at the busy intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 29th Avenue north of Vancouver. A roundabout is planned for the intersection. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With growth and investment expected along 179th Street east of the Clark County Fairgrounds, Public Works is moving ahead with design plans for the reconstruction of two intersections.

Public Works held a virtual open house on Thursday showcasing its plans for intersections at Northeast 29th Avenue and Northeast 50th Avenue. Both projects are expected to begin construction in summer 2024.

“The intention of this is to provide a safe and predictable transportation network that is well connected,” said transportation planner Matt Hermen during the open house.

Reconstruction of the two intersections is part of the larger 179th Street Corridor Improvements project, which runs from Northeast Delfel Road near Interstate 5 to Northeast 50th Avenue. The county says the work is needed to improve travel times, encourage economic development, optimize intersection locations, upgrade stormwater management and bring the corridor up to current road standards.

The Northeast 29th Avenue design plan will change the intersection from a four-way stop to a roundabout. The roundabout will be initially designed to accommodate the existing single lanes of travel in each direction but will be expanded when 179th Street is widened to four lanes. Other work to be done includes upsizing of culverts, construction of retaining walls and utility adjustments.

The Northeast 50th Avenue intersection will eventually include a roundabout, but not immediately.

“When we started the project… our plan was to incorporate a multi-lane roundabout similar to what we were focusing on at Northeast 29th Avenue. As we took a step back and looked at the big picture, the decision was made to delay the incorporation of this roundabout at this location. Eventually it will need to go in,” said Scott Sawyer, capital projects manager for Public Works.

He said traffic engineers determined adding left turn lanes to the east and west sections of 179th Street would provide sufficient access until around 2035. For now, asphalt will be added to the shoulders and the road restriped. The intersection will remain an all-way stop until the roundabout is needed.

Other changes planned along Northeast 179th Street include leveling some of the steeper terrain.

“The grades on 179th Street are significant as there’s several hills that teenagers love to drive over. We want to curb that and make sure it’s a safe stretch of road that… doesn’t have the hills and valley it has currently,” Hermen said.

During the open house, Hermen also noted there are currently many homes with driveways that enter and exit directly onto 179th Street. As the area continues to grow, that will become more dangerous for drivers, especially when the road is widened to four lanes.

“A lot of the large lots that exist out there today have not redeveloped because an urban holding overlay has existed on those properties from 2007 to 2020. We’re really on the cusp of redevelopment and we want to make sure that we have a local transportation system that’s planned, as well as a 179th Street corridor that can move people, all users – both pedestrians, bicyclists as well as drivers. Both freight and vehicle drivers.”

The urban holding designation restricts development until funding is secured for infrastructure upgrades to accommodate additional traffic. In 2019, the county council approved a $66.5 million plan funded by an increase in traffic impact fees paid by developers. The council also lifted the urban holding designation from 2,220 acres near the I-5 interchange, paving the way for future development.

The larger project also includes improvements at the I-5 intersection. A 2018 economic feasibility study put the cost for the I-5 intersection work at $35 million, with another $29 million for upgrading arterial roads. In 2015 the Legislature provided $50 million for the project, which will be made available in the 2023-2025 biennium.

Hermen noted that while the project plan shows new roads built in the area, those roads will not be built by Clark County.

“I want to stress this with utmost importance. These local streets are built by development. They are not built by Clark County. Clark County is not taking property to build these roads. When development occurs, they are part of the conditions of the development,” Hermen said.

However, the county will need to purchase some of the properties along the street to allow for widening to four lanes. That was unwelcome news for some residents in the area. One resident asked what will happen if a property owner refuses to sell to the county.

“It’s important to know that property owners have a lot of rights. But so does the government,” said Laura Henry-Slye, real property services manager for the county who oversees establishing fair market value, appraisal processes, acquisition and relocation.

“I’ve been buying right-of-ways for capital projects for 20 years. I have never once used eminent domain or started the process of condemnation. The worst-case scenario would be that we take you to court for that,” she added.

However, Henry-Slye said that rarely ever happens and is only because the county or government agency has made a “major misstep.”

She said an appraiser who does not work for the government is hired to do an independent appraisal, which is then given to a second appraiser to ensure accuracy and integrity. The appraisal report is then given to the property owner along with a $750 allowance for a professional review.

“Most people understand the need for public projects and that they benefit from that, and the community benefits from that. It sometimes sucks to be the property owner that has to give something up for the benefit of the community. But we compensate you for that. And we give you our best offer first,” she said.

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Sawyer said during the open house that one key element will be the timing of construction projects as the Washington State Department of Transportation moves ahead with the I-5 interchange project.

“It’s important that we’re sequencing the other construction projects so that it works well with that project, so we’re not just closing everything down at the same time,” Sawyer said.

He said a detailed detour plan will be in place to ensure residents can get home at all times.

On the web

A recording of the open house will be available on the county website on Monday. To watch or to learn more about the projects, go to https://bit.ly/3G9kxuc.

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