It’s the most congested stretch of Tri-City roadway. What can be done about it?

Traffic congestion is a daily headache for Hanford workers. During the peak evening commuting period, 3,000 cars an hour can crowd the bypass highway.
Traffic congestion is a daily headache for Hanford workers. During the peak evening commuting period, 3,000 cars an hour can crowd the bypass highway. Tri-City Herald

Most Tri-City drivers know its best to avoid if at all possible the Highway 240 bypass highway during the Hanford commute.

Morning and late afternoon Monday through Thursday, Hanford workers on the nuclear reservation’s four-day work schedule pack the the roadway bumper to bumper around the west side of Richland.

As many as 3,000 cars can crowd that stretch for the hour starting at 4:45 p.m. on Hanford work days.

Now, the Washington state Department of Transportation is trying to figure out how to reduce headaches on one of the most congested stretches of Tri-City roadway.

Driving the road and the nearby corridor of Highway 240 from Stevens Drive to the turnoff at Highway 225 in the Horn Rapids area is an exercise in frustration, show the responses to an initial state survey.

“At peak hours it is incredibly dangerous due to tailgating, passing on hills or other limited sight areas, multiple car passing, excess speeds,” one person responded on the survey.

“Many aggressive drivers. Needs to be better patrolled,” said another driver.

Of the 2,500 people who took the online survey, four out of five, or 82 percent, said they had made changes to their route or adjusted their travel schedule to avoid the section of roads from Stevens Drive at Interstate 182 north to Highway 240 and the intersection with Highway 225/Hanford Route 10.

The Washington state Department of Transportation is looking for traffic solutions on the bypass highway, shown in green, and a stretch of Highway 140, shown in purple. Courtesy Washington state Department of Transportation

Based on the results of that survey that ended Oct. 23, the Department of Transportation has launched a second online survey to see what Tri-Citians think could make the drive better.

In the initial survey, about a third of the drivers said the biggest problem was too much traffic and the greatest need is for more highway lanes.

In addition, 17 percent said the biggest problem was too many traffic lights and 16 percent said unsafe passing.

Other solutions included better timing of traffic lights (20 percent), fewer traffic signals (13 percent) and reduced access to the highway from side streets (12 percent).

Less popular were adding roundabouts or creating a high occupancy vehicle lanes.

The second survey, now open for responses, will be used to help state highway officials prioritize possible solutions and to consider other options.

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Afternoon traffic streams from Hanford on the bypass highway around the city of Richland., with light traffic the other direction. Tri-City Herald file

It’s interested in both low-cost solutions that could be done soon and also solutions it could plan and budget for long term, said Paul Gonseth, planning engineer.

The state has $5 million set aside to reconfigure the Duportail Street intersection now that work is underway on the Duportail Bridge over the Yakima River just west of the bypass highway. Money that is not needed for that project could go to improvements on the bypass highway/Highway 240 corridor.

Less expensive options could include modifying existing lanes to create reversible lanes or high-occupancy vehicle commuter lanes during morning and evening commute times.

Traffic lights could be modified to favor either through traffic or traffic on side streets. Another option would be to restrict some turning options at intersections.

More costly options would range from adding a passing lane on a stretch of two-lane Highway 240, to adding more lanes there.

The survey also raises the possibility of overpasses or underpasses at some intersections.

Also, they could add some possible new stretches of road to parallel parts of the congested roads.

The survey also looks at reducing congestion through buses, biking, walking or carpooling, by asking what it would take for driver to be interested in those options or if teleworking is an option.

To take the survey, go to bit.ly/2UGMS4p

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.