Get ready for roundabouts

As Washougal prepares for two traffic circles to be built along Highway 14, Camas OKs one for busy intersection

An illustration showing the preferred "Option 1" roundabout that will be constructed at the intersection of Everett Street and Lake Road, near the Round Lake parking lot, in Camas. This option saves a rare American Chestnut tree located on the property. Contributed illustration courtesy of city of Camas

Traffic roundabouts are a hot topic in Washougal and Camas right now, with one city preparing for summertime construction on two roundabouts along Highway 14, and the other having just OK’d a future roundabout at a busy intersection near Lacamas and Round lakes.

Construction on Washougal roundabouts to start in late May

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is set to begin construction on two roundabouts in Washougal this month, with a groundbreaking for the roundabout projects set for 10 a.m., Thursday, May 23, in the parking lot of the Pendleton Woolen Mills store in Washougal.

Laura Peterson, a WSDOT engineer, told the Washougal City Council members in December 2018 that WSDOT’s goal was to complete the 25 miles-per-hour roundabouts — at 15th and 32nd streets on Highway 14 — by November 2019.

WSDOT staff recently sent mailers about the project to Washougal residents, stating that the $7.5 million project, funded by state gas tax funds, would not completely eliminate traffic delays caused by trains running through Washougal and that residents may experience construction delays when the roundabouts are being built.

“Constructing roundabouts while keeping traffic moving in the same area will require some complex construction staging,” the fliers stated. “While we work to minimize travel delays as much as possible, some closures and delays will be needed during construction.”

The DNR representatives said they don’t yet know specifics about the delays or closures, but will notify residents in advance through highway signs, media notifications and email alerts, for which residents can sign up at bit.ly/ClarkNews.

Washougal engineer Rob Charles told the Post-Record in December 2018 that traffic may be diverted to other local roads during certain stages of construction of the 32nd Street roundabout, which will be the first under construction.

Charles said the roundabout at 15th Street is intended to be an entry feature for Washougal. It will include the city’s name featured prominently for eastbound drivers – with Pendleton Woolen Mills and downtown Washougal on the left, and Steamboat Landing Park on the right — as well as drought-tolerant landscaping and art in the shape of fish and blue heron.

The roundabout at 15th Street also will welcome visitors to Washougal in a unique way. A design committee, which included Washougal City Councilwoman Alex Yost, decided in 2018 to have the Chinookan word for welcome, “Klayhowa,” written on a post in the roundabout near downtown Washougal.

Yost, who also is co-owner of OurBar, a restaurant in downtown Washougal, said the committee members hoped visitors would stop by local businesses to learn more about the meaning of “Klayhowa” and about Washougal’s history.

To learn more about the Washougal roundabouts along Highway 14, visit wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR14/accessimprove.

Camas leaders OK ‘Option 1’ roundabout for Everett Street-Lake Road intersection

On Monday, the majority of Camas City Council members said they agreed with a city staff recommendation to build a roundabout at Northeast Lake Road and Northeast Everett Street, a busy traffic intersection that impacts travelers heading to and from the city’s lake recreation areas as well as Camas’ northern, southern and downtown regions.

Camas engineers have said the intersection, currently controlled by a traffic light, must be redesigned to accommodate the city’s rapid growth and increasingly heavy traffic demands. Over the past six months, city staff have narrowed down the redesign options and went out to the community to gather residents’ input.

On Monday, during the city council’s workshop, Steve Wall, Camas’ public works director, and engineering manager Jame Carothers told city councilors they had whittled the options down to two roundabout designs for city leaders’ consideration.

The main difference between the two options, Wall said, is that one of the designs (Option 1) would save a rare American Chestnut tree on the site, allow pedestrians to cross only one lane of traffic versus two in the “Option 2” design and would minimize impacts to an existing bridge along Northeast Everett Street as well as to the nearby Round Lake parking lot and private properties.

The intersection redesign has attracted attention from Camas residents. More than 1,300 people took part in the city’s two online surveys about the intersection improvements and more than 120 turned out to the city’s open houses describing the redesign options.

In the end, the “Option 1” design was not only preferred by Camas engineers and planners but also by the residents who showed up to the open houses and took the online surveys.

“In the second survey, 70 percent preferred option one,” Wall told councilors Monday, adding that 20 percent preferred Option 2 and 10 percent had no opinion on the two options.

The surveys left room for written comments, and Camas residents had a lot to say about the intersection redesign. Some wanted to save the chestnut tree with Option 1. Others worried about the roundabout being able to accommodate traffic if the city builds a community center near the intersection. Some comment-writers said they’d hoped the city would rebuild the nearby bridge, which crosses a section of Lacamas Lake. Other writers worried about the safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. And a few hated the idea of a traffic roundabout and urged the city planners to widen the road and keep the traffic signal.

“(Option 1) is better. If the chestnut tree dies, another lane can be added later,” wrote one resident.

“Not sure this plan will help much if any,” wrote another person. “I would expect long lines at peak times. With one lane leading into the roundabout, any restriction in flow holds up cars just wanting to go to the next right.”

Another residents wondered about turning into the nearby Camas Produce store and coffee drive-thru business: “How is this design safe? I go shopping at the produce store and in the morning stop for my early morning breakfast at the coffee shop. How will I turn and not get hit?”

Overall, however, Wall said most of the public feedback the city received favored the “Option 1” roundabout.

“Option one certainly came out as the frontrunner,” Wall said Monday. “Some talked about (saving) the chestnut tree and pedestrian crossing was something that came up several times, with people realizing that crossing one lane at a time certainly helped. (Residents) liked the larger landscaping between the travel lanes (in Option 1).”

Wall told city councilors the Option 1 roundabout would be designed to accommodate the city’s growth through 2040, even if Camas leaders decide to build a community center with a public swimming pool near the intersection. He added that planners and engineers could design the roundabout with an eye on the future beyond 2040.

“As we get into final design concepts, there are ways to expand the roundabout in the future,” Wall said. “We may want to (design the roundabout so the city can) make improvements in the future to handle even more growth than what we’re seeing today.”

In mid-April, the city received a letter from the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urging city leaders to help save the American Chestnut tree near the intersection.

“If it is indeed an American Chestnut, they are quite rare,” stated Linden Lampman, the DNR’s urban and community forestry program manager, in a letter to the city of Camas’ head planner, Sarah Fox. “It would be a shame to see it lost if there was a way to preserve/retain it.”

City councilors seemed to agree that they preferred Option 1, which saves the chestnut tree.

“I weigh on the side of saving the chestnut tree,” said councilwoman Bonnie Carter on Monday.

“Saving the tree is an added bonus,” councilwoman Deanna Rusch added. “Option one (also) had the most public buy-in and that’s important to me.”

Now that city staff have the go-ahead for Option 1, Wall said they will begin the design portion of the intersection improvement project.

“We do not have construction funding solidified, but we do have design funding in place,” project manager Jim Hodges told the Post-Record in April, adding that city staff would likely return to the city council later in 2019 to discuss construction funding options for the roundabout.

To learn more about the intersection improvement plans, view the two roundabout options and see the criteria city staff used to come up with those options, visit cityofcamas.us/lakeroad.

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