Public input is being sought on Phase II and III of the city’s 5-year congestion relief project around the SR-502/SR-503 intersection in Battle Ground
BATTLE GROUND — The biggest battle happening in Battle Ground these days seems to be the one around getting from point A to point B. Issues with traffic congestion have been the focus of a five-year congestion relief project, which wrapped up its first phase last month.
Phase one, which included the new extension of 5th Way to SR-503, and the removal of the traffic lights at SW 12th Ave and Main Street (SR-502) south of Fred Meyer, wrapped up earlier this year. On Monday night at Battle Ground City Hall the public was invited to see what’s next, and give their input.
The Battle Ground Congestion Relief project is a three-phase plan, aimed at reducing some of the headaches surrounding the intersection of SR 503, which runs north and south as 10th Avenue within the city, and Main Street, otherwise known as SR-502. Some 55,000 cars, on average, use that intersection each day, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming years.
The removal of the 12th Ave and Main Street intersection was actually supposed to happen long ago. When it was installed in 1999, the population of Battle Ground was just 9,000 people. It is now in the neighborhood of 22,000, and anyone who tried to leave Fred Meyer and go east on Main Street in the afternoon was in for a long, slow drive.
While traffic flow on Main Street has improved since the completion of Phase I in February, some new problems have been introduced. Those were not anticipated. One is that people who live south of SR-502 on 12th Avenue now have a long detour if they want to go west towards I-5. The hope is to eventually connect them to 15th Avenue via 1st Way, but that would likely require taking out at least one house.
“What we’re hoping is that there’s a willing seller,” says Scott Sawyer, Battle Ground’s Public Works director, “that would help in the decision making of which alignment to use. If nobody’s willing to sell, then we have to take that into consideration and hopefully make an offer to somebody that they will accept.”
Should no one be willing to give up their house, the city council would then need to decide whether to proceed with using their powers to force someone out, or just give up on the project entirely. Luckily for the city they have a little time on that one, with construction not likely to start until mid-to-late 2019.
The first two projects slated for Phase II are much less controversial. One will hopefully fix some of the problems with the SW 8th Avenue and Main Street intersection, which serves as the main entrance to the shopping center anchored by Safeway to the north, and Wilco Farm Stores to the south, and often backs up to the SR-503/502 interchange during busy times. Those changes will come around the same time as dedicated right-hand turn lanes at 10th and Main, which should relieve a lot of afternoon east-west congestion.
Phase III will be a bit more difficult. It includes a proposed new road extending 5th Way east of SR-503, south of Chief Umtuch Middle School, cutting through the north part of Battle Ground High School’s property, and re-joining with Parkway Avenue. The school district would need to be on board for that idea to happen.
“Mostly it’s the neighborhood that are the most vocal about it,” Sawyer says, “they just don’t want it in their backyards.”
Should the 5th Way extension prove too controversial, Sawyer says he’d like to take the money for that project and add a southbound acceleration lane from SW 5th Way onto SR-503, because the current intersection often leaves people waiting for a long time for enough of a gap to get onto the highway, which is 50 MPH in that area.
The biggest conversation remaining is what ultimately happens with the SR-502/503 interchange itself. PBS Engineering is putting together a series of concepts for the city to consider. Among them is a giant roundabout, which would be among the largest in the state. While it would certainly be a talking point, it’s not likely to happen. The maximum capacity for a roundabout of that size would be about where the intersection is now, and it’s the most expensive option on the table.
What’s likely to happen is a combination of some added lanes, pedestrian islands, and changes to the technology used for the traffic signals to hopefully keep things moving more smoothly. While the added right-hand turn lanes will go in sometime next year, the rest of that project likely won’t start until 2020 or 2021.
The changes come at a time Battle Ground is also seeking to determine exactly what its identity should be.
“The city has sort of this patchwork of newer and older developments,” says Mayor Mike Dalesandro, “which, I’m not going to say it’s unique, but I think it is a challenge for us to figure out how we can create the identity that sort of ties it all together. I like to try to say how can we take a challenge and make it a strength.”
Dalesandro says he envies cities like Ridgefield and Camas, which have been able to build from something of a clean slate. Battle Ground exploded shortly before the recession hit, and is poised for new growth again. The City Visioning project, says Sawyer, aims to ask the right questions, and set the path for Battle Ground over the next couple of decades.
“Do you want growth to occur heading out towards the freeway?” Sawyer says, “Do you want more growth here where the school is? What do we do with Old Town. Do we want cutlets, and then have Main Street be more of a pedestrian mall, where restaurants can open out and have trees with lights on them? We don’t have that vision quite yet.”
One sure answer to any questionnaire about what people don’t want in Battle Ground is sure to include traffic congestion. Many people live here and work in Portland, and would rather not fight traffic close to their homes.
If you missed Monday’s Open House, you can still get details about the traffic improvement options and provide feedback online by visiting the city’s website.