Roundabouts en route to timely finish

WSDOT officials say Highway 14 construction ‘moving along fairly well’

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The construction of two roundabouts on state Highway 14 in Washougal is on track to be completed by the end of this year.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) officials said last week that things are “moving along fairly well” with the roundabouts.

“We hope to have the majority of the concrete work done at Washougal River Road in the next week or two, and then we’ll be looking to try to get final paving done,” said WSDOT project lead Tyler Yeoman. “We have another few weeks of work at 32nd Street until all of the concrete work done there.”

Excavating crews with Thompson Bros. have been working since June to build roundabouts on the highway at 32nd Street and Washougal River Road/15th Street.

“This is a very important access improvement and safety project on this part of the (Highway 14) corridor,” said Washougal City Manager David Scott. “It has been a goal of the city for quite some time to enhance access to our community.”

Temporary roundabouts have been constructed to keep traffic moving through the area while the permanent roundabouts are being built.

“A temporary roundabout is a great traffic control option that was never used before in our region,” WSDOT communications consultant Celeste Dimichina said. “In lieu of signals or flagging or closures, the temporary roundabout keeps traffic moving along all the time, and we’re happy about that.”

Current access to and from the Highway 14 corridor through Washougal is limited, affecting safety and economic development, according to WSDOT.

“Based on our models, both of the current intersections will fail in the future with the anticipated growth in the area,” Demichina said.

The roundabouts will enhance the roadway system to provide better access to the highway — and into Washougal’s downtown core — within the corridor, according to Demichina.

“The roundabout at Washougal River Road will provide a signature entrance to our town center,” Scott said. “The roundabout at 32nd Street will greatly enhance access to and from the Port of Camas-Washougal’s industrial park area. Specifically, vehicles will now be able to directly exit the industrial park at 32nd Street and head west on (Highway 14) without having to go over to 27th, go north of the (highway) and then back over to 32nd to finally head west on the (highway). This is a significant improvement. Additionally, drivers will be able to head directly east on (Highway 14) from southbound 32nd Street, as well as head directly across the highway to continue into the industrial park.”

Yeoman said drivers have “handled the changes fairly well” and that WSDOT has received minimal complaints about the project.

“When we first put in the temporary roundabouts, there were more issues than normal because people were dealing with something new,” he said. “As the roundabouts are used more and more, I see the drivers get better as they’re learning. There’s growing pains involved.”

The Federal Highway Administration determined that roundabouts can increase traffic capacity by 30 to 50 percent compared to traditional intersections, according to the WSDOT website.

“Roundabouts at these locations offer the greatest safety benefit by reducing the potential for severe collisions while improving connectivity and economic development opportunities along the corridor,” the WSDOT website states. “Construction of a roundabout at 32nd Street will restore use of the intersection from all directions.”

A roundabouts concept became a preferred option for the city of Washougal about 10 years ago, according to Scott.

“The city then began to advocate for interchanges at these locations,” he said. “However, it became clear that the almost $100 million price tag for interchanges was simply untenable. Working with the WSDOT team, we refocused on the roundabout concept as a practical solution that was financially feasible at $7.5 million.”

The city worked with 18th District legislators to secure funding for the $7.5 million roundabout project through the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package, a $16 billion, 16-year program funded primarily by an 11.9-cent gas tax increase that is being used to enhance the statewide transportation system and maintain critical infrastructure.

Since securing funding, the city has coordinated with WSDOT on details around utilities and the extension of the Washougal Waterfront Trail to Steamboat Landing in the vicinity of the Washougal River Road roundabout.

A local community based team, including Washougal City Councilwoman Alex Yost, worked with a landscape architect to design a signature entrance for the Washougal River Road roundabout.

“WSDOT and the Port have been great partners,” Scott said. “We were particularly impressed with the outreach and detailed coordination WSDOT did with the industrial park businesses to ensure that the roundabouts would work successfully for the various trucks coming out of the park. The design of especially the 32nd Street roundabout was refined through this engagement.”

Scott added that, as with all construction projects, he realized people might be frustrated by the various road closures and disruptions, but said city officials have tried to help community members visualize what the project will look like and how it will work at the end of the construction.

“The city is excited for project completion later this year, when we will benefit from the enhanced access and safety and enjoy the new signature entrance to our community,” he said.