West Richland plans to turn traffic circle into traffic signals

Plans are underway to replace a traffic circle with traffic lights at a key intersection connecting Richland to West Richland.

The city of West Richland wants to remove the circle where Bombing Range and Keene roads intersect to reduce backups and delays.

Designed in 2001, the traffic circle was intended to last 20 years and is approaching the end of its life cycle.

“Once complete, it should reduce travel times during our peak hours,” said West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry during a State of the Cities talk at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Traffic backups are common during morning and evening commutes.

And they have been becoming lengthier and longer as more development pops up along Keene Road and beyond, west of the traffic circle: the city’s municipal services building, Richland School District’s Libby Middle School and Teaching, Learning and Administration Center, SunMarket and Firehouse Subs.

And more traffic is coming.

West Richland’s police station is scheduled to open at 7920 W. Van Giesen St., near the intersection with Keene, this month, with a community open house planned Jan. 25.

The nearby Heights at Red Mountain Ranch housing development at full buildout is expected to add 2,249 more residents.

Growth in the Badger Mountain South development off Dallas Road also funnels vehicles into the traffic circle.

“I’d say you’ve got 12,000 people a day going through the intersection in 2021. We’re just getting back up to 2018 numbers. Traffic is coming back but I don’t think we’ve got everyone commuting yet. There’s still a lot of people working from home,” said Roscoe Slade III, the city’s public works director.

The pandemic bought the city some time for planning the redesign. “But now schools are open and now people are seeing it. And now people are saying, ‘Hurry up, what’s taking so long?” Slade said.

How to pay for it?

Next on the city’s to-do list is finding a way to pay for the $3.3 million project.

The city applied for a $3 million grant from the state Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) but wasn’t chosen.

TIB awarded 136 street and multi-modal improvement grants across the state totaling over $99 million on Nov. 19.

“TIB grant funding is highly competitive and rarely is a project funded on the first application attempt. We will continue applying for both state and federal grant funding in 2022 as opportunities become available to secure funding for the construction of the project,” Slade said.

The city plans to complete the design for the project and acquire the necessary road right of way, which is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

What’s wrong with the circle?

In fall 2020, the city hired JUB Engineering in Kennewick to do a planning analysis of the intersection, looking out 20 years, Slade said.

“They considered all options, including a metering signal or a double-lane roundabout,” he said.

The city decided on traffic lights because such an intersection would be safer for pedestrians, didn’t negatively impact the adjacent property owners and was the preference of Benton Fire District 4.

A handful of people spent 10 minutes during the city council’s Feb. 2 public hearing expressing concern about the plan, citing concerns about safety and noise.

“People are very passionate about roundabouts – or they hate them. There’s not a lot of in between,” Slade said.

When the city gets to work on redesigning the intersection, it also plans to make the speed consistent along Keene Road.

From the traffic circle west, it changes from 25 mph to 35 mph to 45 mph, Slade said. It’s considering 40 mph but more study is necessary first.

“It’s one of the biggest complaints we hear – that speed varies down that corridor,” he said.ade said.

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