Overpasses? Underpasses? New bridge? Options to ease Richland traffic headaches narrow

The best way to keep traffic moving north and south in Richland may be to build overpasses and get rid of traffic lights at four locations along the bypass highway, according to rankings in a new study.

The study, being done by Richland and other agencies, looks at alternatives to make traffic move more efficiently and safely through the city.

The public is being asked to comment now, and then the final results may be used as a guide for planning and finding funding for work to improve traffic flow.

The study was sponsored by the cities of Richland and West Richland and the Washington state Department of Transportation.

Options it considers include adding new routes to relieve congestion.

That could be building a bridge just north of Richland across the Columbia River or adding a transportation corridor from Highway 240 to Keene Road, which would be called the Kingsgate Way Extension.

It also looked at improvements to the two main north-south corridors through Richland, the Highway 240 bypass and George Washington Way.

Eliminate traffic signals

A ranking of alternatives concluded that the best option would be to build “grade separations” — such as underpasses or overpasses — on the bypass highway at the Vantage Highway, Van Giesen Street, Duportail Street and Aaron Drive.

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Adding overpasses or underpasses at four intersections on the bypass highway in Richland was the top ranked-project in results to date of a new study on relieving north-south traffic congestion. Courtesy city of Richland

Traffic signals then could be eliminated.

The proposal also would include making exits at Swift Boulevard and Airport Way right turns only.

The work would cost an estimated $132 million, but could be done in phases as money is available, said Pete Rogalsky, Richland public works director.

The option ranked the highest of those considered for improving safety and also for reducing north-south traffic delays.

A different part of the proposal — adding a grade separation at the Aaron Drive, Highway 240 and Interstate 82 interchange to eliminate the stoplight for southbound traffic — would cost $30 million.

It could be a logical place to start making improvements, according to officials.

Making all the improvements to the bypass could take 20 years or more.

New Columbia River bridge

Adding a bridge across the Columbia River about a mile north of Horn Rapids Road was by far the most expensive option considered, at an estimated $279 million to $450 million.

That contributed to dropping its ranking to lowest on the list of alternatives.

Receiving that much money from the state at one time would be difficult, Rogalsky said.

The Tri-Cities would have to make the case that it needs a fourth bridge over the Columbia River, as Vancouver, Wash., and Portland have planned for decades without moving forward simply to replace one of two bridges there, the Interstate 5 bridge.

There also could be complex environmental permitting issues and state land use regulatory issues as a new Columbia River bridge between Benton and Franklin counties would funnel traffic into a rural area of Franklin County.

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The Regional North-South Travel Capacity Study considers multiple ways to improve efficiency and safety for traffic going north and south through Richland. Courtesy city of Richland

Here’s the ranked list of alternatives:

Add four overpasses and underpasses to replace stoplights along the bypass highway.

Add just the overpass and underpass at Aaron Drive, Highway 240 and Interstate 82.

Add lanes and reconfiguring the intersection at George Washington Way and Columbia Point Drive. It had a lower rank based in part on how much it would improve safety, but the cost was attractive at just $12 million

Build the Kingsgate Way extension to add a new north-south route through Richland at a cost of $83 million.

Widen Highway 240 to add another southbound lane for $25 million. Afternoon commute traffic heading south is more congested that morning commute traffic heading north.

Add a new bridge north of Richland at a cost of $279 million to $450 million.

“The ranking of alternatives isn’t intended to be so rigidly applied that you do one at the exclusion of the others,” Rogalsky said. “But we certainly would recommend starting toward the top of the list.”

Study needs public comment

The list was developed with the guidance of a Technical Advisory Committee for the Regional North-South Travel Capacity Study.

The committee included large employers in Richland, including at the Hanford site; the Ben Franklin Council Governments; Bike Tri-Cities; Washington State University and the Richland School District; Richland emergency services; the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce and Ben Franklin Transit.

The preliminary findings of the study, compiled with the help of a consultant, were revealed at an open house last week in Richland.

The public was asked to fill out comment cards then and the public may continue to weigh in through a survey through the month at bit.ly/RichlandTraffic.

Information on how alternatives were evaluated and ranked is available at the same internet link.

The study should wrap up at the end of the year, with results then presented to key agencies for their evaluation.

They include the city councils of Richland and West Richland, Benton County and the Ben Franklin Council of Governments, which facilitates regional transportation planning.

Sponsors of the study would like it to serve as an action plan and to-do list for Richland traffic-flow improvements, including for seeking grants and and advocating for state funding.

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Courtesy city of Richland
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.