Bypass roundabouts. A bridge to Pasco. Will these fix Richland’s traffic woes?

Reconfiguring the bypass highway interchange at Aaron Drive in Richland may be the best way to keep traffic moving on the most clogged roadway in southeast Washington.

Those changes were among the highest ranked solutions on a new list developed by the Washington state Department of Transportation to address traffic safety and congestion on Highway 240.

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

Possibilities for the interchange range from overpasses or underpasses, a roundabout or a “flyover” — a high-level overpass for southbound traffic — combined with a roundabout for the rest of the drivers.

They scored 45 to 49 points out of a possible 50 on the ranking list.

Richland’s bypass highway is the most traffic-choked stretch of highway in the region, including the Tri-Cities and Yakima areas, said Paul Gonseth, regional planning engineer for the Department of Transportation.

The department started planning for improvements to Highway 240 to address congestion and safety issues last fall. The latest step is the ranking of more than 50 possible changes.

Open house March 14

The public can discuss the list of ranked solutions, learn more about them and share preferences at a state transportation open house from 5 to 7 p.m. March 14 at the Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Drive.

Solutions were scored based on feasibility and effectiveness in addressing congestion and moving traffic through the corridor more safely and efficiently.

The Washington state Department of Transportation is looking for traffic solutions on the bypass highway, shown in green, and a stretch of Highway 240, shown in purple. Courtesy Washington state Department of Transportation

The list is based both on a survey that users of the highway were encouraged to fill out and discussions with Tri-City-area agencies and businesses with an interest in the highway.

The solutions range from improving intersections to finding ways to reduce use of the highway.

They cover the highway from Interstate 182 north to Stevens Drive — the section called the bypass highway as it funnels traffic around the west side of Richland. And it includes the section northwest from Stevens Drive to the Highway 225/Hanford Route 10 intersection.

From roundabouts to overpasses

Costs could range from about $4 million for a roundabout to $31 million to $41 million for a system with overpasses or underpasses, called a grade-separated interchange.

The Department of Transportation has an initial $5 million, which is expected to be used to make improvements for the intersection with the new Duportail Bridge under construction.

But the work likely will not take all the money and some could be used for some of the less expensive solutions on the ranked list developed by the state. Construction could be done in 2020.

Those include some intersection solutions, such as separating the westbound left-turn lanes from northbound traffic on Highway 240 at the Stevens Drive and Duportail Street intersections, which scored 36 and 33.

Or a second left-turn lane could be added at Duportail Street, which came in at No. 28.

240 Bypass file b.jpg
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 list also will be used by the Department of Transportation as it looks ahead to more expensive projects that look promising for helping with safety and congestion issues.

The Department of Transportation will be studying and refining its preferred alternatives and then could seek funding for the top proposals.

Bypass intersections rank highest

Among the highest ranked — with a score of 46 — is converting the intersections along the bypass highway from traffic signals to interchanges with overpasses or underpasses.

Preliminary planning estimates of the cost are $180 million to $230 million.

Building a bridge across the Columbia River from north Richland to Pasco to keep some traffic off the bypass highway scored a 37 and would cost an estimated $195 million to $260 million.

The list also will serve as a guide to improving public transportation, such as increasing van pool ridership or developing bus service to and from the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Adding more park-and-ride locations, which scored 40, could be done for an estimated $11 million to $15 million.

Walking and bike lanes

The highest ranked solution for improving use for bicycle riders or pedestrians was to create separate bicycle lanes at Duportail Street and at Van Giesen Street at an estimated cost of $40,000.

More details on the top-ranked solutions will be available at the open house.

But even if solutions score poorly on the state ranking, officials will take a second look at them if they are what local residents think would be best, Gonseth said.

“We have not picked solutions yet,” he said. “We want to hear what they (the public) think is important.”

Those who don’t attend the open house can email comments to Jacqueline Ramirez at ramirja@consultant.wsdot.wa.gov.

The survey on what improvements people want to see on the highway will remain open until the meeting. To take the survey, go to bit.ly/2UGMS4p.