Cowlitz County planners for the $90 million project to improve the Oregon Way-Industrial Way intersection have eliminated two more designs, leaving two final options to be evaluated for the draft Environmental Impact Statement this fall.
Both options would create a new, four-way intersection raised 30 feet above grade to allow future rail lines to pass under it. Both options would move the intersection slightly to the southwest — toward the Weyerhaeuser Co. log yard. The purpose of that is to reduce noise in nearby neighborhoods, better accommodate the path of rail lines and keep traffic moving during construction, expected to start in 2020.
The project is meant to cope with both vehicular and rail traffic growth that is expected to eventually overwhelm the existing intersection, even if the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export dock is never built in West Longview. The raised intersection will allow trains to pass underneath the roadway.
The first option — dubbed “grade separated A” — would retain traffic flow basically as it is currently: Industrial Way and Oregon Way traffic would continue east and west and north and south just as its does now, across the elevated intersection.
The second option — dubbed “partial grade separated B” — would not allow eastbound or westbound vehicles to continue straight through the elevated intersection (except for emergency vehicles). Those drivers would to have to use a ground-level roundabout just northeast of the overpass. Northbound and southbound vehicles would be allowed to continue through the overpass.
The designs include a complex array of secondary roads because of the need to maintain access to businesses, avoid or cross railroad tracks and permit U-turns, said Claude Sakr, the county’s project engineer.
The first option would include a roundabout at ground level at the intersection of Oregon Way and Alabama Street, where the ramp leading to the new elevated intersection would end. In the second option, the ramp would end north of the Alabama Street intersection, which would limit drivers coming off Alabama to right turn lanes only.
The first option may include relocating the “Reynolds Lead” BNSF Railway rail line that now skirts the west end of the Port of Longview property. This would require demolition of the strip mall that includes the Starbucks and Subway outlets.
The second option includes a “diverging intersection” at the foot of the Industrial Way ramp near Cowlitz River Rigging. Sakr says it is an “innovative” idea that has not been implemented in the state yet. It would look like an elongated ‘x’ and allow traffic crossovers to east and westbound lanes.
Access to the Weyerhaeuser log yard would be maintained, and the company is cooperating with planners, Sakr said.
Sakr presented the plans to the public at an open house Thursday night at the Cowlitz PUD auditorium.
Sakr said the project is meant to prevent anticipated vehicle congestion, noting that the state identified the intersection as needing safety upgrades as far back as 1968.
“This is all about highway improvements or roadway improvements,” Sakr said. “I think there is a broader understanding of what we’re doing and why.”
Officials have said traffic volumes are expected to grow by 60 percent to 70 percent by 2040, causing long backups on the intersection that would stall motorists for more than two light cycles. That’s is called a “failed” intersection. The Legislature allocated $85 million to the project in 2015, and another $5 million will come from local, state and federal funds.
The county originally had eight options. Four of them moved on to the second screening process that evaluated them for several factors, including safety, impacts to residential neighborhoods and bicycle and pedestrian routes. The draft environmental study will be complete in fall, and the final EIS in summer next year.
The first option, with the diverging intersection, ranks better for the local economy and travel connections and would cost less. The cost for either design is estimated somewhere between $70 million and $85 million.
“Any time you can avoid building over the top of active roadways, your building costs are going to significantly go down,” Longview Public Works Director Jeff Cameron said.
The second option, however, is more environmentally friendly, feasible and more likely to get approved, according to the county’s screening results.
Two other options, including an elevated roundabout, were eliminated due to traffic and business disruptions, complex construction, lack of access to emergency providers and geotechnical/earthquake risks.
The project will need approval from the Federal Highway Administration, state Department of Transportation, and the county Public Works and Planning Division. The process for the draft EIS will begin early February.
Cameron said the complex designs are due to the challenge of factoring in four rail lines through a compact, developed area.
Officials hope legislators can front $6.25 million a year earlier, in July 2018, to keep the project going when they anticipate a one-year gap without funding. The state plans to give the project $1.5 million in July and $14.4 million in July 2019.
The largest chunk of state money, $62.1 million, will come in July 2021.
A previous version of this article misquoted Sakr as saying the project includes "railway," not "roadway" improvements.