WSDOT is focusing on a right-in, right-out concept at NE 42nd and 54th Ave. to deal with traffic congestion and safety issues
CLARK COUNTY — Last May, the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) unveiled information about a study into rising traffic crashes along SR-500, especially at two intersections east of the St. Johns Road overpass. WSDOT recorded more than 400 accidents, many rear-enders, at NE 42nd and NE 54th Avenues, both of which still have standard stop lights.
As traffic has increased on SR-500, those intersections have presented not only an increasing bottleneck on the major arterial, but an increasing safety hazard for drivers. At several open houses, both in-person and online, WSDOT sought public input on several options to deal with both problems.
At a recent work session, Carley Francis, WSDOT’s Southwest Washington regional planning director, said their committee had settled on an option that would allow right-in and right-out at both intersections, while removing the stop lights entirely.
“The level of effort to bring something like that forward is relatively … I mean, not simple,” Francis told members of the Clark County Council, “but it’s something that could be accomplished in several months, as opposed to a couple of years.”
WSDOT, Clark County, and the city of Vancouver have worked to secure major funding to solve the issues on SR-500 from Fourth Plain to I-5, without success so far. But Francis says the right-in, right-out concept could be done simply by shifting around existing dollars. A future elevated bike path across the highway near 54th would be the most expensive part, but could be done in years to come as funding becomes available.
At a public open house in May, residents on either side of SR-500 seemed to favor the right-in, right-out approach. While it addresses the safety concerns, there’s concern it could create new problems elsewhere. Councilor John Blom wondered whether WSDOT could go with a hybrid approach, leaving one of the stoplights.
“By retaining a light at one of these locations, you would likely retain roughly half of the accidents you otherwise could remove,” said Francis. “For us that presents a challenging quandary of what is the cost and benefit for some out of direction travel, and how does that weigh against reducing crashes.”
Francis said they’ve been working with schools in the area, as well as law enforcement, who will have to deal with route changes to adjust for no longer being able to turn left onto SR-500 from 42nd to 54th.
“I’ll tell you who is concerned about this,” said Council Member Jeanne Stewart, who sat on the advisory committee examining safety concerns on SR-500. “That communication hasn’t festered enough yet to get to the Vancouver City Council, but it’s going to. So as a person who lives on the far west side, five minutes longer, or even three minutes longer for an emergency response, coming out of the West Precinct … that is not a satisfactory solution to anybody I’m talking to who lives on the west side that, sadly, has an increasing crime rate.”
Francis pointed out that Vancouver police could potentially adjust where police are dispatched from in order to balance out some of the potential delays.
If this concept is ultimately adopted, drivers approaching SR-500 from the south would need to go east to Andresen in order to get back onto the highway going west. That could potentially cause some impacts near Andresen, and other side streets.
“There is some funding in here recognizing that we do not fully understand right now what exact mitigation might be needed to address some issues that could occur as a result of making changes,” said Francis.
WSDOT says they have slightly over half a million dollars available right now to do this part of the project. The east side bike path and mitigation for traffic problems created by the changes at 42nd and 54th would come later.
The right-in, right-out concept would likely not be the long range solution for SR-500, especially as traffic continues to increase. WSDOT says traffic is up 30 percent on that stretch of road just since 2008, and that trend is expected to continue. The Regional Transportation Council has full overpasses at those intersections in their long range plans, but those go out about twenty years.
Next up, WSDOT will continue to seek input from neighbors on either side of SR-500, as well as Washington State Patrol, RTC, and the National Traffic Safety Administration. WSDOT Regional Administrator Kris Strickler says they’re hopeful work could begin before the end of Summer, in order to take advantage of the dry conditions.