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The new connection settings for my pace of reform – 205

14 October 2009 1,307 views No Comment

A bevy of dignitaries stood atop fresh asphalt, near the shadow of a looming new freeway on-ramp, to dedicate the first piece of a grand plan.

With the dedication of the new 112th Avenue connector on Monday, motorists for the first time had a direct connection between Interstate 205 northbound and 112th. The $23 million project — $3 million under budget — enables those motorists to avoid Mill Plain Boulevard altogether, relieving congestion at one of Southwest Washington’s most notorious traffic bottlenecks.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, said politicians are well aware of the multitudes of drivers idling endlessly on Mill Plain at nearby Chkalov Drive.

“We all stand and wave there every election,” Baird said. “It’s about safety, it’s about economic opportunity, and it’s about jobs.”

Work will continue through the end of the year. Final paving and landscaping remains undone, but officials will nonetheless open the new connector each weekday afternoon between 3:30 and 7 p.m. to accommodate the afternoon rush hour.

“Safety was so important to us that we asked the contractor to get this open as soon as possible,” said Don Wagner, regional administrator of the Washington Department of Transportation.

“The asphalt on this ramp was put down yesterday afternoon.”

The linchpin of the project is the 1,100-foot-long bridge that carries motorists from Mill Plain Boulevard to I-205 northbound; it opened last month.

Each hour from 3 to 7 p.m., an average of 2,500 vehicles stream from I-205 to Mill Plain Boulevard heading east. About 750 of those vehicles clog the left-turn lanes onto Chkalov, which turns into 112th as motorists head north.

The new bridge eliminates the need for those commuters to bother with Mill Plain at all. They’ll simply exit from I-205, cruise below the new bridge and wait for the new traffic signal on 112th Avenue.

A trickle of motorists took advantage on the first day — 78 vehicles during the first hour it was open on Monday afternoon, Washington State Patrol Sgt. Thomas Butsch said shortly after 6 p.m.

“I’m sitting here right now, and there’s nobody on it at all,” he said.

Officers are hoping drivers gradually take advantage of the new link. Besides slowing the afternoon commute, state police officers say, the notorious intersection at Mill Plain and I-205 routinely creates a safety hazard by forcing long lines of exiting vehicles to come to a stop on I-205 itself.

“This is not a good thing, when you have cars coming up going 60 mph, trying to get over,” WSP Trooper Steve Schatzel said.

Transportation planners now are looking ahead to a broader plan to re-engineer all of Interstate 205 as it slices through a fast-growing area of Vancouver.

Bridges are central to that broader plan.

Over the next two decades, the DOT plans to spend another $250 million to add or realign interchanges on Interstate 205 from the Columbia River to state Highway 500.

The DOT is already on track to receive $85 million in revenue from the state gas tax to start a half-diamond interchange along I-205 between 18th and 28th streets. That project is slated to begin in five years.

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.

BY ERIK ROBINSON

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