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Washougal ceremony celebrates ‘functional completion’ of Highway 14 roundabouts

WASHOUGAL — Mayor Molly Coston has noticed a distinct shift in how residents view roundabouts, based on social media posts.

When the Washington State Department of Transportation first proposed building two roundabouts on state Highway 14 more than three years ago, the online reaction was overwhelmingly negative, with about 90 percent opposed to the idea, she said.

“Now I would say it’s pretty balanced,” Coston said Wednesday afternoon after she and other dignitaries cut a ceremonial ribbon marking what WSDOT calls “functional completion” of the roundabouts, at Washougal River Road/15th Street and 32nd Street.

That means most major construction and striping is done, although there could be sporadic lane closures for several more weeks as final electrical work and landscaping is completed on the $7.5 million project.

Nearly 50 people gathered in the parking lot for Steamboat Landing Park, just south of the roundabout at Washougal River Road/15th Street, to hear short speeches under sunny skies, cool temperatures and blustery winds in a city that bills itself as “Gateway to the Gorge.”

“It’s another great day in the city of Washougal,” Coston said during her official remarks. “We specifically asked for this weather — without the wind.”

The roundabout at Washougal River Road/15th Street features sculptures of fish and birds, created by a local artist, in its center. The sculptures are flanked by mounds of blue-hued grasses to create the appearance of rippling water.

Coston said removal of the traffic signal at this location eliminated the only stop signal on Highway 14 from downtown Vancouver to White Salmon in Klickitat County.

Improved truck access

David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal, said the roundabout at Highway 14 and 32nd Street will improve access into the port’s industrial park.

The roundabout restored full access to Highway 14 from 32nd Street, where there was no traffic signal. WSDOT previously prohibited left turns onto Highway 14 at that intersection because of safety concerns.

Ripp said a tenant recently thanked him for the project; he said some truck drivers had been reluctant to deliver and pick up from the business.

“It’s only going to improve what we are doing down at the industrial park,” he said.

WSDOT officials didn’t shut down Highway 14 for the ribbon-cutting that followed the speeches but instead used a couple of traffic cones to stretch a short celebratory white ribbon along the side of the road. The ribbon, made for the event, heralded Highway 14 access improvements and included logos for WSDOT, the city of Washougal and the Port of Camas-Washougal.

Roundabout benefits

Transportation officials generally like roundabouts because they improve safety and mobility.

Roundabouts virtually eliminate head-on and T-bone crashes, which are the most likely to result in fatalities or severe injuries. Statistics indicate that roundabouts can reduce fatal crashes by 90 percent and injury crashes by 75 percent at intersections where there had been traffic signals or stop signs.

Roundabouts also can ease congestion since they allow for continuous traffic flow. If there are no vehicles in the roundabout, a driver can proceed without stopping.

Following Wednesday’s event, Carley Francis, WSDOT’s Southwest regional administrator, said residents are gradually becoming supportive of roundabouts.

“As people use them, you often find that people begin to appreciate the lack of delay,” she said.

Driving tips

WSDOT put out a news release that offers some driver tips for roundabouts:

• Slow down when approaching the roundabout.

• Yield to others in the roundabout, including vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

• Choose the correct lane when approaching and don’t change lanes in the roundabout.

• Do not stop in the roundabout.

• Avoid driving next to oversize trucks; the roundabouts are designed to allow large vehicles to track across lanes and up onto the center apron.

Several of those tips apply to two-lane roundabouts, not the single-lane roundabouts on Highway 14.

Francis, however, said the two roundabouts were designed so they could be expanded to accommodate two lanes of traffic.

Upcoming projects

WSDOT doesn’t have upcoming projects in Clark County with roundabouts, at least not until more preliminary work is done on the $50 million improvement to the 179th Street interchange on Interstate 5.

Clark County also might build roundabouts on 179th Street as part of a $66.5 million road plan that will allow development on more than 2,000 acres in the area.

The city of Vancouver is designing several transportation projects that include roundabouts:

• Northeast 137th Avenue corridor completion, Northeast 49th Street to Fourth Plain Boulevard.

• Northeast 18th Street west, between 97th and 107th avenues west of Interstate 205.

• Southeast First Street, with one roundabout on the second phase of the project, between 177th and 192nd avenues.


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