Hanford

‘Brutal’ Hanford commute is about to get even worse. Drivers already are dreading it

Section of G-Way to close permanently in north Richland

A message board warns motorists of the pending closure, in October, of a section of George Washington Way in north Richland near the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory complex.
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A message board warns motorists of the pending closure, in October, of a section of George Washington Way in north Richland near the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory complex.

Hanford commuters will soon have one less way to get to and from work.

Starting Oct. 1, the north end of George Washington Way will be closed.

And some drivers already are irritated.

“The (Hanford) commute is already brutal,” said Laura Hanses, who works at the Hanford site for a Department of Energy contractor.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, in connection with the Department of Energy, plans to close much of the extension that connects the north end of one of the busiest streets in the Tri-Cities, George Washington Way, to Stevens Drive.

The extension is the first exit into Richland for those traveling from Hanford and the Energy Northwest nuclear plant, before cars start hitting the stoplights on Stevens Drive and then the Highway 240, bypass highway.

The lights back up traffic at rush hour.

As many as 3,000 cars can crowd the bypass highway during the evening commute as Hanford workers, plus employees from the national lab, the LIGO galactic wave observatory and the nuclear plant leave work.

In contrast, commuters say, GWay traffic lights are well timed on that busy street which has about 42,000 vehicles each day, as counted at its south end.

PNNL road.JPG
Starting Oct. 1, the north end of George Washington Way will be closed. Google Maps

Electronic reader boards are now posted on the George Washington Way extension alerting drivers the road is closing permanently.

The Department of Energy office responsible for the national lab notified the DOE Hanford manager in late July of the change. The extension is owned by the federal government rather than by the city of Richland.

Closure benefits PNNL

PNNL officials say the road is closing to make the national lab campus safer.

“We want to make the campus more pedestrian safe, pedestrian friendly,” said Susan Bauer, spokeswoman for PNNL.

The developed portion of the PNNL campus is mostly to the west side of George Washington Way.

But there are two buildings on the east side of the street plus two places that serve food, with employees crossing back and forth, Bauer said.

Closing the extension also is included in the long-term plan for the PNNL campus in north Richland, she said. Eventually, PNNL could expand its developed campus to the land northeast of George Washington Way.

The timing was right to close the extension, Bauer said, because the city of Richland is repaving nearly 5 miles of GWay ending at the extension.

Hanford commuters

PNNL has been working closely with Energy Northwest and Hanford contractor, Mission Support Alliance, which provides traffic-related services, at the nuclear reservation, Bauer said.

The GWay extension is part of the nuclear power plant’s emergency evacuation route.

Employees at the plant north of Richland would be routed via the extension to a staging area at a Energy Northwest building on George Washington Way.

GWAY closure sign
A message board warns motorists of the pending closure, in October, of a section of George Washington Way in north Richland near the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory complex. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

One possible solution may be to temporarily reopen the extension if there is an emergency at the power plant, said Energy Northwest spokesman Mike Paoli.

Mission Support Alliance conducted a traffic count and found that an average of 133 cars use the extension to leave Stevens Drive during an average 4 to 6 p.m. commute and 85 cars use it from 5 to 7 a.m.

The first that many Hanford workers heard of the change was when they saw the reader board.

“Bad idea,” said Dick Gustafson, a scientist who lives in northeast Richland and works at the LIGO observatory on Hanford land.

He now uses the extension twice each workday and will have to find a new route.

George Washington Way, the main north-south route through the center of Richland, “is very well engineered,” he said.

The change has the potential to drive more traffic onto residential streets, he said.

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Possible development at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is shown, as included in its campus master plan. Courtesy DOE

He sees some pedestrians on George Washington Way on the PNNL campus, maybe every four or five trips, he said. Though there are none during his Thursday evening commutes.

Some Hanford commuters take the extension to avoid the stop-and-go traffic in the 55-mph speed zone along the bypass around the edge of Richland.

GWay preferred to bypass

Hanses said the Gway extension helps avoid those traffic backups at the Stevens Drive stoplights.

One problem is if you’re trying to get into the residential and business sections of Richland, the left-turn lanes along Stevens and the bypass are problematic, she said.

She also chooses to use the GWay extension in the winter when roads are icy or the weather is foggy because the traffic is slower than on the bypass.

“What I am upset about is I don’t see any consideration for the Hanford workforce,” she said.

There has been no notification to Hanford workers that she is aware of or any study on how the change can be made to work for Hanford commuters, she said.

Capture PNNL closure map.PNG
Plans to close part of the extension at the end of George Washington Way and other changes planned on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in Richland are shown. Courtesy Department of Energy

Other PNNL traffic changes

Closing the extension is just one change planned to help slow traffic on the PNNL campus and make it safer for pedestrians.

Other changes include:

Richland will close intersections to the west on fourth, fifth and sixth street onto the PNNL campus. Fifth Street also intersects with Stevens Drive.

Bike lanes will be installed on both sides of George Washington Way through the PNNL campus.

PNNL will install three flashing stoplights for pedestrian crossing on George Washington Way and two more on Horn Rapids Road on the PNNL campus.

Four-way stops are planned at the George Washington Way and Horn Rapids Road intersection and on Battelle Boulevard, half way between Stevens and GWay.

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.
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