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Iconic signal fails at St. Helens intersection

Repairs expected this weekend


by: MARK MILLER - Cars treat the intersection of Old Portland Road and S. 18th Street in St. Helens as an all-way stop Wednesday, July 16. The four-way, three-way traffic light failed last Friday in the latest of a spate of mechanical issues that has plagued the old-fashioned signal, according to St. Helens' public works supervisor.The old-fashioned traffic signal at the intersection of Old Portland Road and South 18th Street in St. Helens has been out for the past week.

Stop signs are up at the intersection, making it into an all-way stop, so it is still controlled while the traffic light is offline.

St. Helens Public Works Supervisor Neal Sheppeard said a major fault in the signal’s main panel box is to blame for the outage. A technician has been called out to fix it, he added.

“They had to order a special part for it that’s supposed to be here Friday,” Sheppeard said.

The signal should be operating again by the start of next week, although it could return to service as soon as Friday, July 18, according to Sheppeard.

“I think everybody’s kind of settling into it now,” said Sheppeard of the temporary configuration. “It’s definitely a little bit confusing, but that’s why we’ve tried to put some signs up ... and barricades, to get people’s attention that way.”

The traffic light is a four-way, three-color signal similar to those first introduced in the 1920s. Sheppeard said it predates his 33 years of employment by the city of St. Helens.

In some ways, the signal is a throwback to the St. Helens of yesteryear, when it was a bustling mill town.

“That light was put up when Boise Paper was in full production and we had all those people coming out there,” Sheppeard said.

But the idea of taking down the aging signal has not gained much traction, Sheppeard said — at least in part because the city is looking into the possible redevelopment of industrial properties in the area, including the strip of land south of Old Town that Boise Cascade Co. owns and the larger property just east of the intersection in question where Cascades Tissue Group still operates the old Boise Inc. mill. Such a development could increase traffic through the intersection, Sheppeard suggested.

There has also been some discussion about replacing the signal with a newer model, Sheppeard said, but the city’s budget constraints have been an obstacle to that.

“What we’ve been told is you can’t replace that as is,” he said.

New poles would have to be installed and configured to modern standards, which would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to Sheppeard.

The signal has been giving Public Works some grief lately, though. Sheppeard said at least four lightbulbs in the signal, which can normally last for years, have burned out over the past year, including a green bulb as recently as July 4. The cause of the premature burnouts is unknown.