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Cars are seen stuck in traffic on the northbound off ramp at Interstate 5's Exit 21 in 2019. 

 

Work to fix congestion issues at the Interstate 5 Exit 21 interchange in Woodland continues, with a concept potentially set for approval by spring. Residents will have an opportunity to hear about proposed options and voice their opinions this week.

An open house on the Exit 21 project is scheduled for the city council chambers Thursday, Feb. 13. The public will have a chance to talk with staff and consultants and give feedback on what aspects of reworking the interchange they favor over others.

The open house follows work on addressing the intersection’s issues that has been ongoing for about a year. In April, the Woodland City Council approved shifting funds from the Washington State Department of Transportation originally earmarked for a Scott Avenue reconnection project to fund a feasibility study to see options on fixing interchange issues.

Kittleson and Associates, the firm hired to undertake the study, gave a presentation on the study with potential options to the Woodland City Council in December. Woodland Public Works Director Tracy Coleman said that city staff had met several times with WSDOT and the Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments (CWCOG) as part of a technical advisory committee in the process, though the Feb. 13 open house would be more focused on public feedback than other meetings.

The handful of designs being considered largely fit within two groups, Coleman explained — one featuring reconstruction of signaled intersections and one utilizing roundabouts. Some of the concepts eliminate full access of CC Street to Lewis River Road, according to design documents from a recent presentation, maintaining connectivity by having traffic go around onto A Street and Millard Street.

Outside of analyzing whether roundabouts or improved signalization would be better, Coleman said there were more aspects under consideration such as the use of slip lanes that bypass intersections, addition of turn lanes or widening of existing lanes to allow for smoother freight traffic.

“There are two basic options that people are looking at, but it’s not that we’ve narrowed it down to two,” Coleman said. “We’re still evaluating what are all the possibilities at that intersection.”

Freight traffic has also been providing input based on options from the study. Coleman said there was a meeting Jan. 28 to get feedback from the community trucking industry, with 17 business representatives in attendance.

Coleman said the department “received nothing but positive feedback” from attendees, explaining industry representatives received a questionnaire going over companies’ vehicle types and the numbers of trips their company took through the exit, the CC Street bridge and Exit 22 to the north end of the city.

During a roundtable discussion at the January meeting representatives were asked about their biggest challenges with the intersection. Coleman gave examples of some of the trucking companies’ challenges, including the use of “lowboy” trailers to haul machinery that have low clearance and vehicles with trailers in excess of 130 feet, which could complicate any addition of roundabouts should that option be picked.

Coleman said she hoped to have preferred concepts in March to present to Woodland City Council for their approval. A cost estimate would be part of those concepts, which Coleman said would take into account the expected effectiveness of congestion reduction for each one.

Coleman said that many of the options were “absolutely” viable, “and some that we believe are lower-cost than we had initially thought.” Though specific estimates weren’t available given the intensity of the work needed at the interchange, she explained things like changing signal timing or adding a turn or slip lane would be lower-cost than complete intersection reconstruction.

Concepts would also take into consideration future buildout that could impact the intersection, such as residential development outside city limits or industrial development planned inside Woodland.

Though the city received WSDOT funds for the feasibility study, the design would be funded by Woodland, Coleman said, though the department and the CWCOG would have input.

Regardless of what design is accepted, Coleman said any work would be an improvement from the status quo. She remarked the interchange was a failing intersection, having an “F” rating per WSDOT standards.

Should council approve a design concept chosen by the public, Coleman said the city would look for an engineering firm for design. She stressed that residents would be integral in determining what would go before council.

“We’re asking for their opinion and we’re asking for their participation so then we can come to the table with two top design options based on everybody’s feedback, and then get them to vote on what they like best,” Coleman said.

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