ODOT looking for feedback on I-205 plans
The running joke — a bitter one, at that — in West Linn's Willamette area is that during peak traffic hours, Willamette Falls Drive becomes the de facto "third lane" of Interstate 205.
Frustrated drivers exit the freeway — which bottlenecks from three lanes to two once it hits West Linn — and cut through Willamette Falls Drive before merging back onto I-205, worsening an already dicey traffic situation on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares.
The Oregon Department of Transportation hopes to alleviate that problem as part of a larger improvement project on I-205 that would also include seismic upgrades to the Abernethy Bridge, the replacement of two local bridges that run over the freeway and a reconfiguration of on-ramps located along Highway 43. As the project gathers steam — ODOT is scheduled to present its $450 million proposal to the Oregon Legislature in early 2018 — the agency is looking for feedback in the form of an online open house that runs through the end of the year.
"We really want to just hear from community members — just general thoughts and concerns they may have," ODOT representative Kimberly Dinwiddie said. "We'll take comments until (the end of December) and even after the online open house, we still want to hear what people have to say. We've been out visiting neighborhood associations in West Linn, and other groups, to let them know of our preliminary design plans."
At the heart of the current proposal are the addition of a third lane on I-205 between Stafford Road and OR 99E and seismic upgrades on the Abernethy Bridge that would enable it to withstand the 8-plus magnitude earthquake expected to hit the region at any moment. Dinwiddie said about half of the projected $450 million price tag for the project would go toward the bridge improvements.
"I-205 is designated as a 'lifeline route' — it needs to be quickly operational following a major earthquake to bring life-saving services to the people who need them the most," Dinwiddie said. "I-5 is an older interstate (highway) and it would cost more and take more effort to create a lifeline route on I-5. Given that 205 is newer, it is the number one priority."
Other aspects of the project are more specific to West Linn. As part of the current proposal, each of the city's three bridges that cross over I-205 — on Broadway, Sunset and West A Streets — would be removed to make room for the third lanes in each direction of the freeway.
"If we left them in place, the pillars would be in the travel lanes of I-205," Dinwiddie said. "So we need to rebuild them to put the pillars off the highway, and they will also be seismically upgraded."
The Broadway bridge, however, will not be replaced.
"We're not replacing Broadway for a few reasons," Dinwiddie said. "Very few people use it, and it doesn't make financial sense when West A is so close. And having the intersection (with Willamette Falls Drive) there causes a lot of the congestion we see."
Finally, ODOT hopes to reconfigure the on-ramp situation on Highway 43 by eliminating the current northbound ramp and altering the southbound "loop" style ramp.
"Currently, there are two entrances along 43 that merge onto 205," Dinwiddie said. "The merge point will be consolidated to one entrance in the area where the loop ramp is."
She added that drivers will still be able to access I-205 north from Highway 43. ODOT believes this change will significantly improve safety for drivers merging onto the freeway.
"Currently, a lot of the crashes we see are due to the merge point (onto northbound I-205)," Dinwiddie said. "You're looking to your left (for oncoming traffic) and looking to the right for other traffic on the ramp we propose closing."