Camas weighs intersection options

Leaders would like to hear from citizens about Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street

The Camas City Council has agreed to secure the funding source that could be tapped to build a roundabout, but stopped short of fully committing to its construction.

During a workshop on Feb. 17, the group came to a consensus that the city should move forward with issuing and selling limited tax general obligation bonds totalling $8.3 million. The bond package comprises seven projects, including the roundabout.

Several City Council members indicated that they would like to hear citizens’ opinions on the issue, before officially approving the final list of projects that will be supported by the bond proceeds. That action will come as part of a vote on a supplemental appropriation to the 2015-2016 budget.

Installing a traffic control device at the Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street intersection has been part of the city’s long-term plans. Recent discussions have focused on whether it should be a traffic signal or a roundabout.

The site is a major thoroughfare where traffic enters and exits Highway 14 to the west and east. 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.

The cost to build a traffic signal and landscaping features are estimated at approximately $530,000. A one-lane roundabout with a center median and landscaping, on the other hand, would cost $1.5 million.

“It does come down to a values judgement as far as what we are trying to accomplish in that entry point,” said Mayor Scott Higgins. “There is a tremendous advantage to cleaning up and beautifying that part of our community.”

City Engineering Manager James Carothers said traffic capacity studies indicate that a one-lane roundabout could be viable for upwards of 20 years. A second lane could be added later on, if there is demand.

“There is room for a second lane, when growth comes,” he said. “We don’t feel that is a necessary improvement at this time.”

Councilman Don Chaney said he continues to have concerns about the cost of a traffic signal compared to that of the much more expensive roundabout, and whether there are other projects that should be funded instead.

“A million bucks is a lot of money,” he said. “It sounds like I am talking against it, but I am just trying to frame how significant this decision point is.”

Councilman Steve Hogan said he would like to hear Camas residents’ opinions on the issue, before moving forward with the project.

“Do the citizens of Camas really want this to happen? We don’t know. For me, that is a big issue,” he said. “(It’s) a million bucks over what we already budgeted. That’s important. Do they want it?

“I don’t think it’s just a dollar issue,” Hogan added. “It seems to me I’ve heard conflicting viewpoints on roundabouts. Some people can get emotional about this stuff. It might be worth taking a while to listen to what people in this community think about it, before we actually make a decision on this.”

Councilman Greg Anderson agreed.

“I need some more public outreach, input to see whether they value that $1 million the same way,” he said.

Councilman Tim Hazen, who has been an outspoken proponent of the roundabout, said voters elect the city councilors to make these kinds of decisions.

“For me, this is an opportunity,” he said. “We already have to make an improvement here, we’re stuck. We’ve got the opportunity to significantly improve it, not just make it safer. But we could make it safer, environmentally sound and visually pleasing. We could make it really nice. I think it is an easy decision for us.”

Hazen indicated that the cost does not cause him to hesitate.

“We spend a million bucks a lot,” he said. “I don’t look at it as it’s a huge amount of money. I look at the value of what it’s going to bring to us. It’s got a 20-year payout for us. I think it’s a good return on a million bucks.”

“It’s a great solution to a problematic intersection at the gateway to our city,” Hazen added.

If the City Council selects the roundabout, Carothers said the project would be designed this year, put out to bid in late 2015, and constructed in 2016.

“It sounds like we would try to be able to deliver it by summer 2016,” Higgins said.

The bond proceeds, which according to ordinance cannot exceed $10.5 million, would 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).

Due to the current favorable bond market, the mayor recommended the City Council move forward with issuing the bonds. The final decision about whether to build a traffic signal or roundabout, could be delayed.

“I’m torn, because I know it will beautify the entrance into our city. I believe that.” Higgins commented. “I also know that it’s $1 million that we can’t spend on another transportation project that we will have down the road. That is the decision.”