Dread Richland traffic congestion? Here’s what could be done about it

Traveling north and south through Richland is the focus of a new study looking at how best to make the drive less frustrating.

A coalition of governments working with a consultant team on the study are holding an open house Wednesday and also want Richland residents and anyone else who drive the north-south corridor through Richland to weigh in through a survey.

“The study sponsors understand that public input helps shape a community-appropriate solution,” says a description of the “Regional North-South Travel Capacity Study.”

The cities of Richland and West Richland, Benton County and the Washington State Department of Transportation want to look at what improvements should be made, including interchanges, intersection improvements or adding a new north-south route.

They are expanding on the Department of Transportation’s study that began considering what improvements could be made to Highway 240 from Stevens Drive to the turnoff at Highway 225 in the Horn Rapids area.

It is the main commuting route for workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation and as many as 3,000 cars can crowd that stretch of roadway from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. on Hanford workdays.

The study will also look at two other north-south corridors, George Washington Way and a possible new corridor, Kingsgate Way.

The city of Richland’s Comprehensive Plan includes a new corridor connecting Queensgate Drive, following part of Jones Road, north to the Horn Rapids area in north Richland.

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As many as 3,000 cars can crowd the Bypass Highway in Richland in the peak hour of the evening commute as Hanford nuclear reservation employees are leaving work. Tri-City Herald File

The study has already included interviews with leaders from key businesses, agencies and organizations to hear their concerns and ideas.

They included representatives from Preferred Freezer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Energy Northwest, the Richland School District, Washington State University, Kadlec Regional Medical Center and Hanford nuclear reservation contractors.

Highway 240 concerns

They said that drivers generally work around peak traffic times or deal with delays, but safety and effective traffic flow could be better.

Traffic congestion needs to be managed both for safety and to allow continued growth, the study said based on those interviews.

Traffic concerns also may be reducing visits to Richland and north Richland for shopping, recreation and academics because of the congestion.

More than a third of those interviewed said that Highway 240 should be the focus.

Its intersections with Stevens Drive and Van Giesen Street are the most congested and the Terminal Drive intersection is dangerous during the afternoon Hanford commute because of backed up traffic from the Van Giesen intersection, they said.

They also mentioned what the summary report called a “high number of traffic signals” on Highway 240 as impeding effective traffic flow.

Traffic signal timing could be improved, they said.

They also proposed changes to left turn lanes, an overpass for Van Giesen and widening Highway 240.

A quarter of those interviewed were concerned about keeping traffic flowing on George Washington Way.

Participants were split on whether developing Kingsgate Way would be a good idea, with a quarter saying it was not the best way to improve traffic flow and another quarter saying it could be helpful.

About half of those interviewed said that a north Richland Columbia River bridge would be helpful, but many also acknowledged that it would be a high-cost solution.

Public input wanted

The public open house is 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Richland Red Lion, 802 George Washington Way.

The survey will be available online starting Monday through Oct. 30 at bit.ly/RichlandTraffic, according to the city of Richland.

Recommendations on improvements based on the study are expected around the end of the year.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.