Early proposed designs of a project that would connect a disjointed road across a swath of Vancouver land was revealed to the public for the first time this week.
The project would extend Northeast 18th Street across an awkward gap, located just west of Interstate 205 from Northeast 100th Avenue to Northeast 107th Avenue.
Estimated to cost about $13.5 million dollars, the project has a design phase that will extend through the year, with right-of-way acquisition in 2020 and a groundbreaking in 2021.
“We’re very early in the process,” said Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Public Works Department.
The city held its first open house to unveil early design drafts to the public Thursday evening at Henrietta Lacks Health and Bioscience High School. Joined by engineers from Kittelson & Associates and PBS Engineering and Environmental, community members filtered in and out of the cafeteria looking at renderings of different proposed versions of the project.
Once the city gains more community feedback, a process that will take several more months, the engineers will nail down a specific proposal and move forward with obtaining right of way from the property owners along the potential roadway.
Currently, the road chops off abruptly and turns into a walking path. The traversable street picks up again a few suburban blocks away, leaving a few dozen homes with no easy path to the roadway.
The gap in the road also places a burden on nearby neighborhoods, where residents see a disproportionate amount of through-traffic of drivers trying to navigate around it.
Take Janice and Larry Crumbaker, who have lived just north of Northeast 18th Street’s awkward break for 20 years. They attended the open house to see how the proposed development might affect their daily commute.
“We both work in the Portland area, so we have to come down here to 97th, go up to 14th, go across and come back to 107th to get on the freeway. So we would love to have this, so we can take a straight shot,” Larry Crumbaker said.
Building a street from scratch, unlike upgrading an existing road, has some benefits. While some elements are set in stone — stormwater drainage and streetlights, for example, are a given, Callahan said — there’s actually quite a bit of flexibility in what the new road might look like.
The biggest question: roundabouts or traffic lights?
Hermanus Steyn, a senior principal engineer at Kittelson & Associates, said roundabouts tend to serve as more effective deterrents against speeding. If a car hits a green light, the driver can breeze through without slowing at all, he said. But whether or not an intersection is busy, a driver always needs to slow to less than 20 mph in order to navigate a roundabout.
But roundabout intersections take up more space than traffic lights and often have a higher upfront cost. They’re also unpopular among some drivers, who view them as more crash-prone.
“At the end of the day, we look at the road condition and make a decision based on community feedback,” Steyn said.
Another question on the table is how to separate the new roadway from a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists. One proposal would align the path directly alongside the road, while another would elevate the path high above the car lanes on an adjacent hillside. Attendees at Thursday’s open house had the opportunity to cast their vote for their preferred option.
“We currently are asking, ‘What do you want? Pick one,’ ” Callahan said.
The Northeast 18th Street corridor has been the site of improvements dating back to the 1970s, when the road was still a part of unincorporated Clark County and identified as a major east-west corridor. As more and more businesses and residences fill in the I-205 corridor and surrounding region, traffic’s grown more congested.
“These improvements are projected to accommodate growth in the area over the next 20 years,” states the project page on the city’s website.
After the western segment of the road is completed, the city plans to turn its attention toward the section stretching from Northeast 136th and 164th avenues, east of I-205.