Camas moves forward with roundabout design

Construction at Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street could begin in 2016

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This architect's rendering by consultant HDJ Design Group depicts what a roundabout at the intersection of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street would look like. On Monday, the Camas City Council gave staff the go-ahead to begin design work.

The city of Camas will move forward with the preliminary design phase for a roundabout that will be located at the intersection of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Norwood Street.

While the need for some kind of traffic control device at that location has long been identified, the City Council has debated in recent weeks whether the method should be a traffic signal or a roundabout.

During Monday’s workshop, a majority of the City Council members gave the green light for city staff to begin work on the roundabout’s design phase, with the condition that there would still be opportunity to change direction.

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 difference between the cost of the two proposals is significant.

The price tag 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.

Councilman Don Chaney indicated that he still has some questions about how the roundabout will impact traffic and, with population growth, how long a roundabout would expedite traffic effectively compared to that of a traffic signal.

“For me, it’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “If we are going to spend $1 million extra dollars, I want to make sure that when we do that, we do it right and don’t have egg on our face. And, that we do it because it’s compelling, and not because it would be nice. That’s where I’m at.”

City Administrator Pete Capell said the roundabout is supported by the city’s police and fire departments, both of which have indicated that it would not impede incident response times.

WSDOT Regional Maintenance Engineer Chad Hancock told the City Council the agency generally prefers the roundabout model.

“It reduces delay, and that’s critical to us coming off the off-ramp,” he said. “If you get backups on the off-ramp, it stops traffic. The site distance isn’t the best as you come around that corner, there are all kinds of things blocking visibility, which to us is a safety issue. Any collisions we have in a roundabout are going to be low speed, low impact.”

Compared to having no traffic control device, when a roundabout is installed Hancock said data suggests that the total number of collisions is reduced by 37 percent, injury collisions are reduced by 75 percent and fatality collisions are reduced by 90 percent.

“We anticipate when we put a signal in, accidents will actually increase,” he added.

Randi and Arnold Bruley, who live in a house on Northwest Norwood Street that overlooks the intersection, are opposed to the construction of a roundabout.

“A roundabout is not going to work,” Randi Bruley said. “We’ve seen a lot of people try to cross, and they take their life in their hands. I’m glad that something is going to be done, although I feel the traffic signal is much better because it is going to stop traffic for the pedestrians.”

City Councilman Tim Hazen has supported the roundabout concept since initial discussions began. A roundabout, he said, has inherent safety features that a signal does not, including calming traffic and providing a center refuge area for pedestrians who will be on the opposite side of freeway traffic when crossing.

“Ultimately, I think we know the intersection needs to be improved,” he said. “I think the statistics speak for themselves in terms of the reductions of the fatalities and the overall interactions it can have.”

Capell told the City Council that to move the project forward in a timely manner, a decision should be made soon.

“We ask that if you’re not ready to say ‘yes’ (to a roundabout) then we at least be given direction to proceed with preliminary design, and we can further refine and answer questions,” he said. “I think that as it develops, there will be new questions as well. Until we let a contract out to build it, we can pull the plug at any time along the way, if we’re no longer comfortable with it.”

Capell said an open house will be scheduled for June, giving the public the opportunity to comment on the design and learn more about roundabouts.

The project will be paid for through proceeds from a limited tax general obligation bond. The city sold the bonds last week, and will receive the $7.3 million in funding on Wednesday.

The bond package comprises seven projects, including the roundabout that is part of a $2.7 million project that also includes water and storm main improvements on Sixth Avenue, paving from Adams to Norwood streets, and signal upgrades at Ivy Street and Fargo Street.

Camas Engineering Manager Jim Carothers said the water and storm main improvements and paving of Sixth Avenue from Adams to Logan streets will take place in 2015, while construction of the roundabout would occur beginning in March 2016.