Step­toe round­about traf­fic light turns on next week

Tri-City Herald - - Front Page - BY WENDY CULVERWELL wcul­ver­well@tric­i­ty­her­ald.com

The Step­toe round­about is break­ing new ground once again.

Tues­day af­ter­noon, the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion will turn on a new traf­fic me­ter on west­bound Columbia Park Trail. The new sig­nal is about 100 yards from the round­about en­trance.

It is Wash­ing­ton’s first perma- nent traf­fic me­ter at a round­about.

The stop-and-go light should make it eas­ier for driv­ers leav­ing east­bound High­way 240 to en­ter the round­about by cre­at­ing “gaps” be­tween ve­hi­cles in the round­about.

That should min­i­mize the evening back­ups that breed dan­ger­ous traf­fic con­di­tions on the off-ramp.

“We’re very ex­cited,” said LisaRene Schilip, a DOT traf­fic engi­neer work­ing on the Step­toe up­date. A WIN FOR PUB­LIC SAFETY

Step­toe de­buted in 2007 at the in­ter­sec­tion of Columbia Park Trail, Step­toe Street and the High­way 240 off-ramp.

It re­placed a four-way in­ter­sec­tion that had sev­eral fa­tal wrecks and, dur­ing rush-hour, backed up onto the high­way.

The round­about draws plenty of crit­i­cism, but there have been no deaths. Engi­neers con­sider it a win for pub­lic safety.

The most se­ri­ous col­li­sion was

two years ago, when an im­paired driver lost con­trol of his car go­ing about 100 mph.

The young driver ca­reened through the in­ter­sec­tion and de­stroyed his car. He ended up plead­ing guilty to drug charges. Most im­por­tantly, he sur­vived.

Still, the orig­i­nal twolane con­fig­u­ra­tion con­fused driv­ers so much that it led to calls for DOT to re­think the de­sign. There were 129 fen­der-ben­ders be­tween 2011 and 2013.

DOT nar­rowed the Columbia Park Trail ap­proaches to a sin­gle lane in 2016.

To­day, 35,000 ve­hi­cles pass through each day. Traf­fic peaks at 3,300 per hour dur­ing the evening rush, with 1,200 com­ing off the high­way, com­muters headed home — many from the Han­ford nu­clear reser­va­tion.

Engi­neers have seen cars wait­ing on the of­framp for up to 2 min­utes and 15 sec­onds.

The back­ups ex­tend the length of the off-ramp – short­en­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the slow­down zone. That cre­ates dan­ger­ous con­di­tions, with ve­hi­cles go­ing at high­way speeds sud­denly com­ing up to slow­mov­ing off-ramp traf­fic.

That’s the prob­lem engi­neers want to solve.

HOW IT WORKS

The $100,000 traf­fic me­ter and as­so­ci­ated equip­ment are in place and ready to go. An en­gi­neer­ing crew will cal­i­brate the sys­tem Tues­day and turn it on.

Sen­sor “loops” em­bed­ded in the off-ramp will de­tect stopped traf­fic and ac­ti­vate the red-green me­ter on Columbia Park Trail.

When the me­ter is ac­tive, west­bound driv­ers on Columbia Park Trail will have to wait for a “green” to pro­ceed to the round­about en­trance.

A green light is not free ad­mis­sion to the round­about. Driv­ers must still fol­low the round­about rules, which in­cludes yield­ing to traf­fic ap­proach­ing from the left and semi trucks which turn wide and can’t stop quickly.

Schilip said the me­ter is pro­grammed to come on when traf­fic is backed up. It should only work dur­ing the af­ter­noon peak.

“We don’t want it turn­ing on and off all day long,” she ex­plained.

It should come on dur­ing the Mon­day to Thurs­day evening com­mute. Fri­day is a non-work day for Han­ford, so traf­fic isn’t as con­gested.

A “Ramp Me­tered When Flash­ing” sign alerts Columbia Park Trail driv­ers to the com­ing sig­nal. The alert is near the spot where the road passes be­neath High­way 240, near the Ben Franklin Tran­sit head­quar­ters.

It is un­clear what if any re­lief the me­ter will of­fer other driv­ers, such as those driv­ing east on Columbia Park Trail or south on Step­toe.

Of­fi­cials hope the added “gaps” will help all sides of the in­ter­sec­tion.

Morn­ing back­ups on Step­toe and Columbia Park Trail are com­mon and even an­noy­ing. But engi­neers say they’re less crit­i­cal be­cause they don’t mix high-speed high­way traf­fic with slow­ing driv­ers.

But if the traf­fic me­ter is a suc­cess, DOT may con­sider repli­cat­ing it on other sides to speed up morn­ing traf­fic.

In the in­terim, South Rich­land res­i­dents can avoid Step­toe by us­ing the newly ren­o­vated Queens­gate Drive to ac­cess In­ter­state 182 and High­way 240.

The city of Rich­land re­cently up­dated the south­ern stretch of Queens­gate. The road, com­plete with round­abouts at I-182 and Columbia Park Trail, opened in Au­gust.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514

NOELLE HARO-GOMEZ Tri-City Her­ald

A traf­fic me­ter will help cut traf­fic at the Step­toe round­about in south 240 Rich­land. Engi­neers say it will re­duce backup son High­way.

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