More roundabouts are coming to the Tri-Cities.
Construction begins next month on two Queensgate Drive traffic circles in Richland.
Though delays, backups and detours will come with construction of the $3.9 million road project, the end result is expected to improve traffic flow in the congested south Richland area.
It’s common for rush hour traffic snarls at Queensgate Drive, Interstate 182 and Columbia Park Trail to back up traffic onto Keene Road.
The project also includes a dedicated right turn lane on westbound Keene Road at Queensgate.
One roundabout will be at the Queensgate-Columbia Park Trail intersection, and the other at Queensgate and the eastbound I-182 ramps, just south of the bridge over the interstate.
The project is expected to be done in July.
No changes will be made to the ramps for traffic entering or exiting I-182 westbound, but the backups drivers frequently experience there are expected to be alleviated with the south Queensgate improvements.
“The hope is, when roundabouts are in and traffic is flowing, you won’t have backups north of there,” said Julie West, a civil engineer for Richland’s public works department.
The two roundabouts will be built in tandem, but they will not be the same “teardrop” style found in Kennewick where a double roundabout controls the flow of traffic between highways 395 and 240 and Columbia Drive.
There will be a straightaway between the two traffic circles for a more traditional use compared to Kennewick’s complex setup.
The project also will widen Queensgate Drive to four lanes between Keene and the freeway, with two lanes in each direction and a curbed center turn median.
The southernmost roundabout on Queensgate will extend Columbia Park Trail to the west, connecting it with Jericho Court, north of Tri-Cities Battery and Auto Repair. There is currently no intersection at this section of Queensgate, and the road sees frequent backups in the morning and evening rush as traffic bottlenecks along Queensgate.
Businesses along route
The city has a number of outreach efforts underway to communicate and prepare residents and business owners who will be affected by the construction, including going door-to-door to talk to them about the final project design.
The city will maintain driveways for businesses along Queensgate so customers may still reach their destination.
Angela Kora, owner of Ethos Bakery, is optimistic the addition of a dedicated right turn lane for traffic headed north on Queensgate from westbound Keene Road will eliminate the bottlenecks in front of her shop.
She sees two separate times in the morning when the backups are the worst, usually between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
Kora said she’s noticed that’s about the same time her restaurant gets quiet.
“By the time they get to this corner, they just need to go,” and they don’t pull in for a coffee or pastries.
Ethos is in a strip mall facing Keene Road and can only be accessed by drivers headed westbound on Keene, or through a rear parking lot entrance off Queensgate.
A frequent complaint from customers was “you’re hard to get to,” when Ethos first moved to south Richland a little more than a year ago.
Kora also sees drivers cutting through her parking lot to avoid the signal at Keene and Queensgate.
West said the road improvement project will provide increased access to the building where Ethos is located. Right now, drivers can only access the businesses while driving westbound on Keene, but drivers soon will be able to pull into, and exit, the parking lot from either direction of Keene.
During the construction process, drivers can expect lane closures and detours while the four-month project is completed.
The largest impact will be for those looking to enter the Queensgate shopping center from Keene, since traffic will be prevented from going completely north on Queensgate.
Vehicles will be detoured further west from Keene to Duportail Road near the Maverik gas station. Freeway ramps will remain open, but drivers should still expect frequent lane closures and slowdowns during daytime hours. There may be nighttime work that closes the corridor completely at times between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Drivers who typically use these intersections and access points should expect delays throughout the spring and early summer as work is completed.
Five years in the making
The road project has been more than five years in the making, with the heaviest planning and analysis coming in the last three years.
There had been consideration at the start of the planning process to replace the traffic signal at Keene and Queensgate and install a traffic circle instead.
The process included a public survey and several open houses seeking feedback.
“Through public input and traffic analysis, it was decided it will remain a signalized intersection,” West said.
The northernmost roundabout will replace the current traffic signal at the southbound end of the bridge over I-182 which controls drivers headed on and off eastbound I-182, and north and south Queensgate Drive.
Engineers can’t promise fewer accidents when a traffic circle replaces a signalized intersection, but they do expect the severity of accidents to decrease since it prevents the “T-bone” crashes more likely to occur at a traditional intersection where vehicles are stopped four ways.
The city of Richland is working with the state Department of Transportation, or WSDOT, on the project.
The roundabout planned for Columbia Park Trail is a city project, and the roundabout at the freeway is a WSDOT project, though both will be managed by Richland.
“The goal is to appear like a seamless project, even if there’s two contractors,” West said.
The contract bidding process is already underway for the WSDOT roundabout, and the city’s roundabout will go to bid in late February.
It’s a low bid process and groundbreaking is expected four to six weeks after the lowest bid is accepted.
Richland is funding its $1.7 million construction costs with federal dollars and rural grant funds, which includes the roundabout and the lane addition at Keene and Queensgate.
There are some city matching dollars being contributed, but the bulk of the cost will be covered by the federal money and grants.
The construction cost of the WSDOT roundabout is expected to be $2.2 million.
“The two projects have been coordinated in design and plan,” West said.
Bike lanes, sidewalks
In addition to the improvements for vehicle traffic, the project is also designed to increase connectivity and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Once work is completed in the summer, there will be “on street” bike lanes along Queensgate, connecting to shared-use pathways along Queensgate and I-182. This means cyclists and pedestrians will find a more direct route to Queensgate and Keene as they currently need to detour by the wineries on Tulip Lane to remain on a bike path.
Sidewalk improvements also are planned as part of the project.
The finishing touches on the roundabouts will include an artistic display using the theme “transformation.”
The city is working with its Arts Commission and has hired an artist to develop the artwork to be featured in each roundabout. An architect and artist from WSDOT are also part of the team.