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A transportation study of the intersection, shows curb extensions would work better

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Caleb Cox, a transportation analyst with Kittleson Associates, addresses the St. Helens City Council on Wednesday, March 6. After conducting a study, the consulting firm determined the intersection of St. Helens and 1st streets could benefit from a curb extension for pedestrian safety and visibility, rather than a four-way-stop.St. Helens city officials will likely not adjust traffic controls at a key intersection in the Riverfront District, but are considering other improvements if funding can be made available.

The St. Helens City Council heard recommendations from Caleb Cox, a transportation analyst with Portland-based Kittleson Associates, on Wednesday, March 6, after the consultants conducted a traffic study to determine how often the intersection was used and if traffic patterns warranted major changes.

In December, Councilor Keith Locke requested the city examine possible improvements to the intersection. Locke said at the time the intersection posed a safety hazard and that he has witnessed many "near misses" where crashes could have occurred.

The city approved a $17,688 contract with the consultants in December.

Kittleson conducted the study with input from St. Helens city staff in January. The results indicate that the intersection does not have sufficient traffic volume to warrant a four-way stop, a determination based on national standards outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. As an example, qualifying factors that could prompt a four-way stop could include an average of 300 trips an hour over a span of eight hours; combined car, bike and pedestrian traffic average of 200 units an hour over eight hours; or five or more crashes reported in a 12-month period.

The collected data show a peak of between 99 and 136 vehicles traveling on 1st Street and between 71 and 92 vehicles traveling on St. Helens Street. Between 2012 and 2016, four crashes have been reported at the intersection.

Cox alternatively recommended the city retain the current two-way stop and build curb extensions along the two streets, as well as diagonal parking, wayfinding signage, and low-growth landscaping. The improvements would provide a greater line of sight for motorists and would improve pedestrian safety.

The three council members present at Wednesday's meeting — Locke, Steve Topaz and Ginny Carlson — indicated they were in favor of improving the intersection to increase motorists' line of sight and pedestrian safety, but finding the needed $250,000 to $300,000 would be challenging.

The city receives funding from the state's Surface Transportation Program, but those funds cover a variety of improvements like street patching, pothole repairs and other needed road maintenance throughout the year. Sue Nelson, the city's engineering director, warned that using all of the money in the fund for one improvement would curtail other preventative maintenance work.

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