CAMAS — The Northwest Lake Road and Northwest Sierra Street merger must be improved to withstand future population growth, according to a recent analysis of the busy Camas intersection
The improvement would ensure the safety of road users and alleviate long wait times for drivers turning left from Sierra Street onto Lake Road, one of Camas’ busiest thoroughfares.
“The goal is to improve safety for all and decrease wait times,” Engineering Manager Curleigh Carothers told Camas City Council members Monday.
Without improvements, Carothers said, the intersection will fail the city’s standards and would, by 2045, cause traffic jams on Northwest Sierra Street, with drivers lined up past Northwest 45th Avenue and waiting nearly two minutes to turn onto Northwest Lake Road.
In 2023, Camas officials agreed to hire consultants from MacKay Sposito and DKS Associates to evaluate the busy intersection and consider possible improvements.
On Monday, Carothers detailed the consultants’ findings, showing that the intersection could be improved using either a traffic signal or a mini-roundabout.
Both options would help alleviate congestion and wait times on Sierra Street, Carothers said, but come with pros and cons.
The traffic signal would be less expensive than the roundabout — about $1.7 million compared with a projected $3.1 million for a mini-roundabout — and would reduce crashes by 14 percent with fewer impacts to private utilities.
The roundabout would require right-of-way private property acquisitions, as well as the construction of retaining walls, but would reduce crashes by 20 percent. The roundabout also comes with a higher safety rating, has lower maintenance costs and clears traffic faster.
Carothers said the traffic signal option would fail to meet the intersection’s needs during the height of traffic in the morning hours by 2039.
“This is a very good policy question for council,” Camas Public Works Director Steve Wall said Monday. The option for the roundabout will serve the intersection’s needs for longer than the city’s traditional 20-year option, but it costs more.
“On the flip side, you have a traffic signal that likely costs less but doesn’t serve us in the long run,” Wall said. “How much money do we want to spend, and how far down the road do we want this to get us?”
The no-build option
The consultants also showed what would happen to the intersection without improvements. Though the no-build option showed Lake Road would receive a C grade and Sierra Street would fail the city’s road grading formula by 2045, Camas Councilwoman Jennifer Senescu said she believed officials should consider holding off on making improvements.
“I’m looking at it, and I don’t see the ‘no build’ as being not an option,” Senescu said Monday, noting that the intersection has had four crashes involving non-serious injuries over the past five years.
Councilwoman Bonnie Carter, a resident of a neighborhood close to the intersection, said the no-build option could be costlier for the city in the long run.
“It will fail in 2045,” Carter said of the Lake-Sierra intersection, which is currently controlled by a stop sign on Sierra Street. “And we will risk escalation of costs at that time.”
Carter and Councilman Tim Hein said they were concerned for bicyclists who use the intersection.
“I saw a teen crossing from Sierra … and I don’t know how that child made it across without getting hit,” Carter said.
Hein pointed out that as the number of drivers using the intersection increases, “people are taking more risks … especially as they pull out and take a left turn.”
Though city staff did not recommend one option, the city’s consultants suggest the mini-roundabout.
“As compared to a traffic signal, the operational benefits of the roundabout option include a higher (level of service), less delay and a higher level of safety,” consultants wrote. “While roundabouts may have higher initial construction costs, they often result in lower ongoing operational and maintenance costs compared to traffic signals without the potential of losing operation during a power outage or after a traffic incident.”
The consultants added that roundabouts “often provide smoother traffic flow, reducing congestion and potentially lowering overall costs related to delays and fuel consumption.”
“I came into the conversation thinking I would prefer the signal, but we could spend $1.7 million for that and still have to do something later. Then, what could have been $3 million in today’s dollars will probably be twice that down the road,” Councilwoman Marilyn Boerke said. “We try to be very prudent with citizens’ money, but just because something is less expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best option.”
Hein agreed that the roundabout option made more sense but said he would like to gather more public input before making a decision.
“I think it’s worth spending more money for, ultimately, a better solution in the long term,” Hein said Monday. “But also, I think it’s super important to get public feedback from residents … and to get it quick.”
In the end, officials directed staff to seek public input on the intersection improvements.
“We can do that,” Wall said. “This will be an opportunity for us to talk about the options out there.”