Richland wants to hear from the public about what to do with one of the great Tri-City traffic bottlenecks.
About 42,000 vehicles drive down George Washington Way each day at the intersection with Columbia Point and Aaron drives, backing traffic up into the city center. Public works director Pete Rogalsky said the city is planning between $5 million and $7 million in road construction there, and it has narrowed the possible solutions down to three from between 15 and 20.
“They all provide a very substantial improvement over what we have today,” he said.
The city is having a public meeting on the topic from 5 to 7 p.m. June 11 at the Richland Community Center. It is also setting up a website for the project and will get feedback from an online survey.
Two of the options Richland is looking at involve cutting off access to Aaron Drive from the existing intersection and putting in a new intersection.
One alternative would have Aaron Drive traffic turn at Jadwin Avenue and then connect to a new street where a tree shelter belt is now located. The new street would go into George Washington Way at a new intersection between the Columbia Point Drive intersection and the on-ramps for Interstate 182 and Highway 240.
Drivers on Aaron Drive that don’t turn at Jadwin Avenue would dead end into a cul-de-sac before reaching George Washington Way.
Another alternative would have Aaron Drive go farther along its current route, but turn into George Washington Way sooner. That would create a new intersection in a similar location as the one with the possible new street.
Signals between the existing Columbia Point intersection and new intersection would be coordinated under both proposals, Rogalsky said. He said having different intersections would eliminate the primary bottleneck — conflicting left turn movements. Instead, drivers would get more green light time.
Those options would require alterations to the freeway ramps to slow traffic down. Rogalsky said the ramps to and from George Washington Way were built to handle traffic going between two freeways, rather than to a city street.
The other option involves keeping the George Washington Way-Columbia Point-Aaron intersection where it is, but widening George Washington Way to 10 lanes from the current seven lanes. That would also require moving Aaron Drive before the intersection.
Each option requires the city buying property, but some would require entire homes be purchased, while others need only a strip of land.
The city is also looking at putting in a pedestrian tunnel that would be more than 100 feet long under George Washington Way to keep people from crossing the busy street. Rogalsky said the entrance near WinCo is well suited for a tunnel because it is below the street, but ramps would be needed on the other side.
Staff has been talking with law enforcement to make sure the tunnel is safe, but some council members were still concerned when Rogalsky went over it Tuesday.
“I’m just thinking about late at night, if we go to the trouble of cameras,” Councilman Phillip Lemley said. “We’ll have to have somebody there 24/7 to monitor the cameras.”
But the danger of not having a tunnel could be even worse for pedestrians, Rogalsky said.
“It’s 11 p.m., they’re dealing with high-speed traffic and drivers in some sort of condition, possibly,” he said.
Also Tuesday, the council:
• Authorized staff to apply for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant to help it pay for a Duportail Street bridge over the Yakima River. The city is also seeking money from the state to pay for the $38 million bridge, which would connect the Queensgate area to central Richland.
The grant would allow Richland to accelerate construction on the bridge, the city says.