A road project meant to untangle the Mid-Columbia’s most confusing roundabout could snarl nighttime traffic at a key south Richland intersection for a few weeks.
The three-week project starts July 11 and aims to modify the Steptoe roundabout at Highway 240 and Columbia Park Trail. Construction crews will work from 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The roundabout will remain open, though there may be times when it is reduced to a single lane of traffic.
Construction Ahead Inc. is the contractor for the $153,000 project. Its contract specifies the roundabout must be fully functional during the Columbia Cup hydroplane races July 29-31.
“We want to make sure the bulk of the work gets done before the boat race weekend,” said Moe Davari, project engineer for the Washington Department of Transportation.
The two-lane roundabout is one of the first of its kind built in Eastern Washington. Its crisscrossing exit lanes confuse drivers.
There were 129 fender-bender accidents recorded between 2011 and 2013.
Drivers who illegally enter the roundabout without yielding to vehicles already there are the leading cause of wrecks.
The roundabout has increased safety.
Moe Davari, state Department of Transportation
“We’d like to see that number drop,” he said.
Still, Davari called the Steptoe roundabout a success.
There have been 21 minor injuries, but no serious injuries or fatalities since it debuted in 2007. There were several fatal accidents when the intersection was controlled by stop signs.
“The roundabout has increased safety,” he said.
The project will reduce the Columbia Park Trail east and west entrances into the roundabout from two lanes to one lane. It also will add short curves to slow approaching traffic.
The off-ramp from Highway 240 eastbound and the access to Steptoe Street will remain two lanes because they carry high traffic volumes — more than 14,000 vehicles each day.
The roundabout has arguably been a headache for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists since it opened and even sparked a campaign to modify it.
Gene Weisskopf of Richland started the Surviving the Steptoe Street Roundabout site and a petition calling for safety modifications.
It is not bicycle friendly, I would argue. I would argue pedestrians would not have a chance. ... The whole thing is very much a compromise.
Gene Weiskopff, Richland
Weisskopf welcomes the improvements, but said they leave bicyclists and pedestrians at risk.
“It is not bicycle friendly, I would argue. I would argue pedestrians would not have a chance,” he said, describing intersections where pedestrians must cross in front of vehicles whose drivers are looking for traffic coming from the opposite direction.
He called the redesign a partial solution.
“The whole thing is very much of a compromise.”
Davari disagreed and said the roundabout serves bicyclists and pedestrians well. Reducing Columbia Park Trail from two lanes to one should help cyclists, he said.
The fix is being paid for by the $16 billion Connecting Washington transportation package approved by the 2015 Legislature.