WL presents traffic realignment options at waterfront open house
It's been a cause for concern since Day One — a constant no matter who you ask about West Linn's Waterfront Project and what their opinion is about how the area should be redeveloped.
City representatives and citizens agree that traffic issues have to be addressed as West Linn looks to revitalize a sizable stretch of riverfront land running from the Arch Bridge down to the Willamette neighborhood. The area is already congested, and the situation would only worsen if redevelopment triggered the expected upswing in recreation and tourism.
Where opinions diverge is exactly how to solve the problem. To that end, the City presented four traffic circulation options at an April 3 open house meeting. About 80 people attended the meeting, according to consultant John Morgan, and they were all invited to share their thoughts.
"There were very thoughtful discussions, many great questions," Morgan said. "That was by far the largest amount of people (at an open house)."
Each option varied in cost and scope. The first and most basic option was called the "Existing ODOT Roundabout Proposal," which would be handled by the Oregon Department of Transportation and create a new roundabout on Willamette Drive near the northbound Interstate 205 exit ramp while also eliminating a northbound on-ramp to I-205 and the Broadway Street bridge over the highway.
City staff offered a rating system for each option, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down sign for categories like "safety," "mobility," "multi-modal," "mill access" and "delay" and general cost estimates
ODOT's proposal was the cheapest, but it also received thumbs down signs from the City in every category — and most residents agreed, according to Morgan.
"Option one is the City doing nothing — it would be ODOT-only changes," Morgan said. "The people agreed 'no' on that."
The second proposal was to install a new traffic signal and realign segments of streets near the intersection of Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive. The light would reside at a newly created intersection adjacent to the old city hall building.
"(This option) has been around for quite some time; it's still the simplest and there was some pretty popular response to it," Morgan said. "It doesn't resolve the congestion issues to a great degree — you'd still get a lot of backup at the signals. It provides good access at the redevelopment site ... (but) it still probably does the least good for keeping traffic moving."
The third proposal would realign part of Willamette Drive and Willamette Falls Drive to create a "traffic oval" — essentially an extended roundabout — just before Willamette Drive meets the Arch Bridge.
"It gets rid of the signals and allows traffic to flow much better," Morgan said. "People would have to get used to it, and the fact that it's on a state highway means that ODOT would have to agree. They've done traffic ovals a few times."
Access to the paper mill property would remain limited with that option, however, and the City also gave it a mixed review (both thumbs up and thumbs down) for alternative modes of transportation.
Finally, the most expensive and "out of the box" option presented at the open house was referred to as "road realignment with tee intersection signals." The project would extend Sunset Avenue across Willamette Falls Drive and into the paper mill property, connecting all the way to a traffic signal at Willamette Drive and the Arch Bridge.
"Realignment of Willamette Falls Drive from the bluff really works better from a traffic standpoint, but it's the most expensive and involves the most street construction," Morgan said. "There was lots of positive response, but the question of 'who pays for that thing?' comes up and we haven't really gotten there."
The City whittled down eight options presented in the November open house to four options for the April open house. During that process, the City consulted with ODOT as well as Clackamas County.
"(The options are) all pretty distinctive," he said. "None of them will solve congestion — they never will, given the volume of traffic all coming to one place there. We're trying to mitigate it to a certain degree and provide access. These would all do that, but with varying degrees of success."
West Linn resident and Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation member David Caraher said he arrived at the tail end of the open house and was left with some big picture questions.
"What seemed to be missing was some assumption or set of assumptions about what potential effect waterfront development will have on traffic proposals, or what effect the different traffic proposals would have on potential waterfront development," Caraher said in an email. "But after talking with the representative traffic engineer at the meeting, my take is that that the two most viable traffic proposals are sketchy enough to allow for fine tuning as planning continues."
The next step, according to Morgan, is to evaluate public responses and see if a message presents itself.
"We'll see if there's a pretty clear consensus," Morgan said. "We still need a more thorough traffic engineering analysis and construction analysis, and need ODOT to bless what we come up with."
If the public has a clear preference and it is cleared through various levels of analysis and bureaucracy, that option will be included in the eventual waterfront planning document.
A second open house related to land use was originally scheduled for April 5, but Morgan said the City postponed it at the request of Portland General Electric (PGE) — which owns a substantial amount of the land in that area. West Linn Paper Company — which announced its closure late last year — PGE and other stakeholders have been negotiating property ownership for several months. While that process is nearing closure, PGE asked for the City to wait before discussing land use with the public.
"They don't want us to get way ahead of them," Morgan said. "We're hoping to reschedule within a month."