Woodland council votes against roundabouts for Exit 21 improvement project


The Woodland City Council voted to move forward with engineering design for a project intended to alleviate traffic issues at Interstate 5 Exit 21, approving work on a concept that keeps stop light signals, though some councilors are concerned the state may force roundabouts upon them.

The council voted 6-1 in preference to intersection improvements that will continue to use stop lights, one of two options proposed following more than a year of development for the project.

The improved signal concept under consideration would also add a right-turn lane from the Northbound I-5 exit onto CC Street, removing the street’s current connection to Lewis River Road, according to design documents. Traffic from CC Street would have new access by way of Millard Avenue to the North.

The other proposed concept would add three roundabouts in the area — one at the Northbound off-ramp/Lewis River Road intersection, one at the Lewis River Road/Pacific Avenue, and another at the Goerig Street/Lakeshore Drive intersection.

Woodland Public Works Director Tracy Coleman said that the Washington State Department of Transportation would support either the signalized or roundabout options, but that support would only come following a 30-percent design phase, which would show whether or not the proposed design would be a good choice for the city.

Both concepts could be 30-percent engineered for under $400,000, which Coleman said the city had enough available funding to do, or about $200,000 for design of just one of the concepts. She added that there was a chance that completing one design to the required level could end up showing it wouldn’t work, and the city would end up having to look at the other option anyway for comparison.

Advantages for going with improved signals included better traffic flow for the Northbound I-5 ramp, as Coleman recalled hearing from Kittleson and Associates, the firm that came up with the concepts for the city, who said that modeling of signalized intersections avoided backup onto I-5 compared to the roundabout.

Coleman said that WSDOT tended to prefer the roundabout design on the basis of maintenance cost, but ultimately whatever successful 30-percent design basis came up with, the department would go with. She said that criteria for a workable design would be based on “all hard facts and numbers” put together by the engineering consultants selected for the project, adding there were certain steps and processes required out of the WSDOT design manual to take.

Strictly from a time factor, Coleman said it was her opinion that having both choices studied would work best. Should only picking one design pan out, Coleman said the remaining $200,000 could be used to fund the 100-percent engineering costs. Ultimately, council went with starting only on the signalized concept.

Coleman said getting the engineering design to the needed level could take three months after a bid was accepted, though if Kittleson won the bid it may take less time given their familiarity with the project.

Councilor Carol Rounds said that with the potential for growth in the city, signals made more sense, as it would be easier to modify traffic flows than it would be with roundabouts.

Councilor Dave Plaza said issues with the existing roundabouts at Exit 22 showed the potential impacts putting more in at the city’s other interstate connection.

“I don’t know what happens when you get a roundabout in this state, but suddenly everybody loses their minds, and nobody knows how to drive in a roundabout,” Plaza said.

Councilor Benjamin Fredricks agreed with public testimony that having roundabouts at two intersections “chokes off the (Woodland) industrial zone," though he said that looking at other road projects in the state, it looked as if roundabouts were inevitable.

“Regardless of … the direction this council gives, I feel like the Washington Department of Transportation is going to do whatever they want, whatever works for them. That’s my fear,” Fredricks remarked.

Fredricks lamented that the council’s choice of going with signals might ultimately be in vain.

“I find it patronizing that I am given a choice here,” Fredricks remarked. “If we’re steadfast on signals, I have a feeling that someday roundabouts will be at those intersections, regardless of what this (council) wants.”