Camas works to solve a traffic control riddle

Options for the Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street intersection include signal lights or a roundabout

A major change to the way traffic flows through the intersection at Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street in Camas is being discussed by the City Council.

Options for the heavily traveled area, which is located where traffic enters and exits Highway 14 to the west and east, include either a roundabout or a signalled intersection.

The project addresses issues including level of service, delays on side streets and safety, according to city staff.

The immediate area was primarily surrounded by residential housing until 2007, when the Sixth Avenue Commercial Center opened to the public. The development includes a gas station, car wash, drive-thru coffee shop and 8,244 square feet of retail space.

Installing a traffic control device at the intersection and meeting ADA standards for accessible design, has been part of the city’s long term plans for at least a decade. The possibility of that device being a roundabout is a more recent development.

During a City Council meeting earlier this month, Councilman Tim Hazen indicated that he supports the concept of a roundabout that would create a visually appealing “gateway” to the city.

“We are doing so many things that we can to create opportunities for Camas to shine and to look better and do it the ‘Camas way,'” he said. “I really feel like this is a major entrance to our city and it’s an opportunity for us to put a mark that defines us differently.”

According to Hazen, a landscaped roundabout would be an eye-catching entryway. Sixth Avenue takes travelers who have exited Highway 14 east past landmarks including Forest Home Park and the paper mill, and into the historic downtown shopping district.

“When you come into a city and you come straight up to a stop light, I think it sends a different message than if you come in to a beautified roundabout,” he said. “I’d like to believe the roundabout can serve the same purpose the light does, and I’ll leave that to (city staff) to tell me one way or another.”

Mayor Scott Higgins said he was initially opposed to building a roundabout at the site, but has been willing to learn more.

“It’s come up. It’s been discussed. I was not terribly in favor of the idea, due to some issues I had been aware of,” he said. “I’m becoming more educated and we’re going to explore that.”

Councilman Steve Hogan asked whether a roundabout would create any safety issues with pedestrians crossing the street.

“These are all things we are going to have to explore,” Higgins responded. “You’ve got a lot of factors you are trying to get solved with one project. You’ve got access, safety, entrance point, how long until the intersections fail, and how much money you put into something. Lots of factors to work through.”

A report prepared by the city’s project consultant, HDJ Design Group, states that roundabouts provide safety and operational benefits.

Roundabouts, according to the report, reduce the total number of crashes by 35 percent, and reduce injury crashes by 76 percent. They also have a traffic calming effect and provide for increased pedestrian safety by reducing traffic speeds, providing a refuge island, and focusing on one traffic stream.

Operationally, research indicates that there is less traffic delay and greater access. Operating and maintenance are also reduced, compared to a signalled intersection.

Costs associated with the traffic signal project, which are included in the 2015-2016 budget, are approximately $2 million. Building the intersection with a roundabout would require an estimated $2.7 million.

Funding for the intersection project would come from monies secured by the city through a limited tax general obligation bond, which was approved by the City Council in July 2014. The money would be paid back using real estate excise taxes and transportation impact fees.

Plans call for bond proceeds, which cannot exceed $10.5 million, to also be used for several other projects including a citywide installation of LED lights ($2.5 million); completion of improvement projects on Friberg-Strunk Street and 38th Avenue ($1.5 million); design, permit and right-of-way acquisition for Parker Road from 16th Avenue to Pacific Rim Drive ($500,000); as well as purchasing a fire truck ($500,000) and the building next to City Hall that is currently being leased as a site for the fire marshal’s office ($300,000).

The Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street intersection, as well as the general obligation bond, will be discussed today during the City Council workshop at 4:30 p.m., at City Hall, 616 N.E. Fourth Ave. The meeting can also be viewed live at www.cityofcamas.us.

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