Transportation Issues in the News
The following article was prepared by RTC staff. We felt this topic would be of broad interest to our site’s visitors and offer insight into at least one emphasis area of the agency’s current focus. We plan to update these feature articles on a regular basis, so check back for new content!
The Vancouver Area Smart Trek (VAST) program, led by RTC, is a partnership of transportation agencies in the Clark County region that work to improve transportation system performance by collaborating on signal systems, freeway and arterial management, traveler information, and transit signal priority projects through the use of smart technology and the system infrastructure needed to support it.
The VAST program focuses on the non-capital side of regional transportation planning. The VAST agencies (WSDOT, Clark County, City of Vancouver, C-TRAN, and City of Camas) have been cooperating since 2001 to make better use of existing transportation facilities by improving system efficiency and performance without expanding road capacity.
This cooperation has been a valuable pathway for developing and securing funding for ITS/operations projects totaling more than $27 million in federal funding over the last 15 years, resulting in projects that directly improve transportation operations and building the supporting communications technology systems.
Projects funded through the program include central signal system upgrades, new signal controllers, signal optimization, ramp metering, freeway and arterial detection, cameras, variable message signs, and transit signal priority as well as the fiber and network communications infrastructure needed for connecting ITS devices.
VAST collaboration has also led to other successful partnerships. RTC and the VAST agencies have an ongoing partnership with Portland State University in the regional transportation data archive known as Portal. The Portal archive contains, in a single location, historical and real-time transportation data from agencies in the Vancouver-Portland region and can be used by researchers, planners, traffic engineers, and the public to look at transportation performance throughout the region.
Fiber optic networks are vital to communicating with and operating transportation devices in the field for and bringing data back to agency operations centers. VAST agencies have had an agreement in place since 2006 to share unused fiber capacity with each other saving agency costs and resources instead of having to build new fiber routes separately. This agreement has led to 115 miles of shared fiber, saving agencies from $17 to $21 million than if they were to construct their own projects.
In looking to future transportation trends and advances in technology, many experts envision tremendous growth of connected vehicles, which can exchange data with roadside infrastructure, and autonomous, or self driving, vehicles. Forecasts on the impact of these imminent mobility changes vary wildly. RTC, in cooperation with the VAST partners, is starting a conversation with regional stakeholders to make sense of the possible impact on roadways, land use, and transit service and is an area that will be explored in 2018.
Below are an assortment of recent news items related to or impacting local transportation issues. Most of these stories were authored outside the agency, and will take you to a new page on (or PDF document from) an external site.
- State to remove Highway 500 signals - August 14, 2018
- The Washington State Department of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to remove the traffic signals from Highway 500, replacing the intersections on Northeast 42nd Avenue/Falk Road and Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road with right in/right out interchanges. WSDOT broached the topic earlier this month, but formally announced the plan on Monday, said Regional Planning Director Carley Francis. The project’s aim is to reduce collisions at the two intersections, especially rear-endings — currently a major problem in an area where “folks anticipate a free-flow design corridor,” Francis said. The new traffic layout is expected to reduce crashes in the area by 70 percent.
- Coming soon! Safety improvements to change how you travel SR 500 in Vancouver - August 13, 2018
- In response to input from thousands of people during a safety study conducted earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Transportation has selected a Right In, Right Out design to improve safety on State Route 500 at Northeast Falk Road/Northeast 42nd Avenue and Northeast Stapleton Road/Northeast 54th Avenue in Vancouver. In collaboration with the City of Vancouver, Clark County, C-TRAN and the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, the design was chosen because it balances significant safety improvements to SR 500, while maintaining some connectivity to SR 500 from local streets. “With nearly 400 crashes occurring on SR 500 near these intersections over five years, we believe it’s our responsibility to do something to improve safety,” said Carley Francis, WSDOT Southwest Region Planning Director. “These improvements are relatively low cost, can be implemented rather quickly, and will significantly improve safety on SR 500.”
- I-5 Bridge ‘tough topic’ in transportation plan - August 5, 2018
- The thorny subject of replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge, Southwest Washington’s most divisive piece of infrastructure, has not escaped the attention of the state’s long-term transportation planners. The bridge is the first issue discussed in the “Tough Topics” section of the draft Washington Transportation Plan — 2040 and Beyond, a long-term transportation plan created by the Washington State Transportation Commission. “Replacing this vital economic link with new infrastructure is daunting in terms of scope, coordination, environmental mitigation and cost, but those challenges pale next to the issues we face if this connection is severed,” the document states. The planning document takes a high-level view of the entire state’s transportation future and, from a policy perspective, six statutorily-mandated transportation goals promoting economic vitality, mobility, safety, preservation, environmental health and stewardship. It is part of a regular update to the Commission’s 2035 plan, which was adopted in 2015.
- WSDOT has a plan for state Highway 500 - August 2, 2018
- The Washington State Department of Transportation has a proposed solution to make two crash-prone intersections on state Highway 500 safer and more efficient for drivers — possibly within a few months — but once the work is over, some pedestrians will likely have to wait for years before they can walk across the highway again. The agency is proposing turning the intersections of Highway 500 and Northeast 42nd Avenue/Falk Road and Northeast 54th Avenue/Stapleton Road into right in/right out interchanges. The traffic lights would be removed and the highway reconfigured. A median barrier would be built through the intersections, and the merge lanes would be reconfigured to give drivers more time to enter the highway and enforce the right-off turn. Taking a “left turn” from either intersection would require turning right on Highway 500 then making a U-turn at either Northeast St. Johns Road or Northeast Andresen Road. WSDOT is looking at beginning the reconfiguration process this fall before the rain begins, but that is still far from certain.
- Port, pols celebrate West Vancouver Freight Access project - July 31, 2018
- Port of Vancouver administrators, along with political and industry leaders, stood atop a small stage in a largely vacant marine terminal Tuesday morning to celebrate the completion of the $251 million West Vancouver Freight Access project. “We are building transportation infrastructure in this part of the state because this part of the state is integral to the economic growth of the entire state,” Gov. Jay Inslee told the crowd. “This project is as important to the economic development of Bellingham and Spokane as it is Vancouver.” Throughout the celebration, workers rushed newly imported Subarus into an awaiting freight train in the background and heavy equipment and engines groaned in the distance. “It really underscores what we do here and why we’re here today,” said port Commissioner Eric LaBrant.
- Construction on Northeast 119th Street ‘one bite at a time’ - July 30, 2018
- Whenever Robin Washington, a project manager with Clark County Public Works, is asked why the improvements on Northeast 119th Street are taking so long to build, she likens it to another large undertaking. “I ask people, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” she said. “One bite at a time.” Now the county is finishing one bite and is starting on another as it continues its multiyear project to upgrade Northeast 119th Street from a two-lane country road with no sidewalks or bicycle lanes to an arterial intended to accommodate growing suburbanization.
- Commuters consider cost, implications of tolls - July 25, 2018
- At 3:20 a.m. every Monday through Thursday, Mike Coffman departs from his Vancouver home for his 4 a.m. shift at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland. He used to work at 6 a.m., but by then the traffic was prohibitive, he said — Coffman much prefers knowing that he can make it in 40 minutes, even tucked within the convoy of overnight freight haulers. A locksmith and carpenter coordinator at the hospital for more than 30 years, Coffman is one of the estimated 70,000 Clark County residents who commute to work in Oregon, and who count on the Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 bridges to make it into work.
- 4 Tweaks To Sell Southwest Washington Commuters On Portland Tolls - July 13, 2018
- Oregon’s Transportation Commission met Thursday to hear public input on a proposal for implementing tolls to reduce congestion on Interstates 5 and 205 through Portland. One key question: whether politicians in Southwest Washington will accept the plan. An advisory committee has proposed first testing tolling on a portion of Interstate 5 through downtown Portland and on the Abernathy Bridge between Oregon City and West Linn. Under the plan, there would eventually be tolling along both I-5 and I-205 between the state line and their intersection near Tualatin. The proposal faces stiff opposition north of the Columbia River. In Clark County, roughly half of the population commutes to Oregon for work.
- Portland pushes immediate tolls on I-5, I-205 - July 11, 2018
- Southwest Washington officials were dismayed Wednesday to learn that the Portland City Council is pushing for immediate tolls on Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 in lieu of a proposal to phase in tolling on a few sections of the interstate. The council’s position was outlined in a letter sent to the Oregon Transportation Commission in advance of a special public hearing Thursday as the commission considers a recommendation from the Portland Metro Area Value Pricing Policy Advisory Committee last month. Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring, who served on the 25-member advisory board, said she’s not surprised to learn about Portland’s renewed tolling platform, given Portland’s previously expressed views on tolling. “I’m saddened to see this, but it’s just frustrating watching,” Quiring said, “because we just don’t have a very loud, effective voice.”
- Bridge Update - June 30, 2018
- The Port of Hood River is working to get the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge replaced as quickly as possible. At its current pace, a new bridge could be in place by 2025, but the port and representatives from both sides of the river hope to finish it sooner. The port commission most recently held a work session with local stakeholders to go over the process of submitting a Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS), which must be completed before the project can move forward. The port is currently in the process of finishing the FEIS and other National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements.
- County growing, but not as fast - June 27, 2018
- Clark County’s population is still growing at a fast clip, but the growth rate may have reached its peak. The county gained an estimated 8,500 people and grew 1.8 percent between April 2017 and April 2018, making it only the eighth fastest-growing county in Washington, according to data released Tuesday by the state Office of Financial Management. An estimated 479,500 people live in Clark County. Franklin and Benton counties, which make up the Tri-Cities, along with Snohomish and Skagit counties north of Seattle, were the fastest-growing. Historically, Clark County has been among the state’s fastest-growing places. The other faster-growing counties this year were Kittitas (Ellensburg), Whatcom (Bellingham), and San Juan.
- Committee OKs limited I-5, I-205 tolls - June 25, 2018
- A committee of government officials and other leaders from across the region signed off on Oregon’s plans to toll limited sections of Interstates 5 and 205 in the Portland metro area as part of a strategy to relieve congestion. The decision made Monday by the Portland Region Value Pricing Advisory Committee is another step in a yearslong process that still needs to be approved by the federal government. While the decision could mean a more expensive commute for Clark County residents, the committee was split on a more ambitious tolling scheme. The committee also adopted some conciliatory measures for Clark County after residents and officials complained that the plan treated them as Oregon’s piggy bank.