Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council

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!

Using Technology to Improve Traffic Operations

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.

December 11, 2017 ⋅ PermaLinkArchive

News Feed

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.

Clark County interchange projects on Highways 14 and 500 result in fewer accidents - October 27, 2020
It’s been a year since the Washington State Department of Transportation installed a pair of roundabouts on state Highway 14 in Washougal, and two years since the department removed two traffic signals along state Highway 500 in Vancouver. The strategies were different – Highway 14 traffic has to slow down to pass through the roundabouts, while Highway 500 drivers can now zip through at full speed – but the projects shared a goal of reducing accident rates. Early data from both corridors suggests that the changes are working as intended, particularly when it comes to stopping rear-end crashes.
I-5 Bridge panel reviews mass transit, alternative crossings options - October 1, 2020
There are two topics that tend to be the most contentious in any discussion about replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge: high-capacity transit and alternative crossing options. The mass transit issue in particular is often cited as one of the factors behind a legislative deadlock that derailed the Columbia River Crossing replacement project in 2013. Washington and Oregon embarked on a new replacement effort last year, and the bistate legislative committee tasked with overseeing the new Interstate Bridge Replacement Program tackled both issues head-on at a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon.
Pedestrian safety upgrades continue along Northeast 112th Avenue - September 28, 2020
A new sidewalk installed along Northeast 112th Avenue in east Vancouver marks the latest step in improving safety along a notoriously dangerous road for pedestrians. However, there’s still more work to be done, said Loretta Callahan, spokesperson for the Vancouver Public Works Department. The new sidewalk along the east side of the north-south arterial stretches from Southeast Chkalov Drive to Northeast Ninth Street. Construction on the sidewalk wrapped up over the summer, on-schedule despite COVID-19 delaying other projects around the city, Callahan said. In all, the infrastructure upgrade cost just under $270,000. “It was a grant-funded project to improve pedestrian safety,” Callahan said.
I-5 Bridge repair project productive - September 28, 2020
The Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion replacement project wrapped up ahead of schedule last week – or at least the part of the project that required the closure of the northbound span of the bridge. Crews reopened the span late Friday night, two days sooner than planned. The northbound span closed to all traffic starting Sept. 19 so crews could replace a cracked trunnion and other components of the lift system at the top of the span’s south tower. Both freeway directions shared the southbound span last week, with the middle lane functioning as a reversible rush-hour lane. The bridge isn’t quite back to full capacity yet. The reopening of the northbound span coincided with the start of a planned weeklong closure of the left lane of the southbound span to give crews room to reconnect the freeway median barrier and perform other wrap-up work from the trunnion project.
Clark County drivers see wet conditions, moderate traffic in final I-5 Bridge repair commute - September 25, 2020
Clark County drivers are seeing wet conditions but limited delays in what is expected to be the last day of their week of trunnion project commutes. Traffic monitors at 6:15 a.m. showed moderate traffic but no significant slowing on southbound Interstate 5 through Vancouver, where traffic must merge down to two lanes to pass over the Interstate 5 Bridge. Northbound Interstate 5 also was experiencing moderate traffic but no significant slowing as drivers merged down to one lane to pass over the bridge. No delays were seen on Interstate 205 in Vancouver.
Repair of I-5 Bridge nears end minus any calamity - September 24, 2020
The work week at the core of the nine-day closure of the Interstate 5 Bridge is coming to an end, and Vancouver commuters appear to have dodged the worst of the predicted traffic apocalypse, apart from a few bumps throughout the week. The northbound span of the twin bridges has been closed to all traffic since Saturday while crews replace a cracked trunnion and other lift system components on the bridge’s south tower. Both freeway directions are sharing the three-lane southbound span in the interim. The crossing is a notorious traffic bottleneck to begin with, and officials at the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation spent several months warning Clark County and Portland residents that the 50 percent reduction in capacity would lead to 4-mile-long backups unless commuters planned ahead by working from home or changing their schedules.
Swap-out part of I-5 Bridge work mostly done - September 23, 2020
Wednesday marked the halfway point in the nine-day Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion replacement project, and Oregon Department of Transportation officials say the work is on track to wrap up on Sunday as scheduled. The primary goal of the project is to replace a cracked trunnion at the top of the northbound bridge’s south tower. The trunnions are the axles for the sheaves — a pair of 20-foot-diameter pulley wheels at the top of each tower that move the cables that connect the lift span to the counterweights.
Zipper machine moves barriers, transfers Interstate 5 Bridge traffic amid project - September 22, 2020
The logo on the side of the machine says Road Zipper. Press releases from the Washington and Oregon Departments of Transportation have at various times referred to it as a zipper barrier machine or zipper barrier truck, and one tweet from C-Tran affectionately dubbed it “Zippersaurus.” Whatever it’s called, the big orange contraption has been one of the most visible parts of the ongoing Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion replacement project, making twice-daily processions along the bridge to realign the barrier between northbound and southbound traffic like some kind of stately freeway Zamboni. Zipper machines are a common sight for motorists in cities where moveable barriers have become a permanent part of daily traffic management, such as on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, but they’re rare in Portland and Vancouver. Many local motorists probably last saw one during a previous I-5 Bridge repair project in 1997.
Crash closes southbound I-5 in Vancouver on first work day of bridge project - September 21, 2020
A crash in the single southbound lane of Interstate 5 has stopped traffic on the bridge, according to transportation officials. The backup already stretches north of 39th Street into Minnehaha and is causing issues on arterial streets in downtown. North and southbound traffic are sharing the southbound span of the bridge during repairs to the northbound span’s trunnion. The reduces the southbound traffic to two lanes in the morning and one lane in the evening. The crash occurred after crews shifted the median barrier to allow two lanes of traffic to flow north and one lane to flow south. With only one lane, the crash has effectively closed the southbound freeway lanes until it can be cleared.
Drivers urged to pack patience for Monday commute amid I-5 Bridge project - September 20, 2020
For drivers about to take part in the first workday commute since Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion repair project began, transportation officials have two tips. Plan ahead. Be patient. Sunday saw backups up to four miles on I-5 and heavier-than-usual traffic on I-205. What will Monday’s commute will bring? Nobody is quite sure.
Day 1 of I-5 Bridge trunnion replacement project mostly on track - September 19, 2020
The Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion repair project was largely on track on its first day Saturday, save for some temporary delays. Crews worked to close all lanes of the northbound span during the first day of the project, which is expected to last nine days. The gradual closure began early Saturday morning and had finished by the afternoon.
Get ready because the bridge closure begins tonight! - September 18, 2020
There are a lot of moving parts in this process and not all of them are in the bridge. When the closure of the northbound span of the Interstate Bridge begins at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, a series of steps will have already taken place that will help ease the northbound Interstate 5 traffic onto the southbound span. The shift will be gradual. Starting at 8 p.m. Friday, two lanes of each direction of I-5 will close. This will leave just one northbound lane open on the northbound span until the span closes down for the duration of the nine-day project. The lanes will be clearly marked and the speed limit will decrease to a comfortable 40 mph. It will take crews time to put the zipper barrier in place. Once it’s in place, all traffic will share the three lanes of the southbound span, with 6,400 feet of concrete zipper barrier between the directions of travel.
Closing time: I-5 Bridge trunnion repair project begins Saturday - September 18, 2020
Barring any more last-minute delays, the big Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion repair project is set to begin Saturday, kicking off the scheduled nine-day closure of the northbound span of the twin bridges and use of the southbound span for all freeway traffic. The closure was originally scheduled to begin Sept. 12, but the Oregon Department of Transportation announced on Sept. 10 that it would delay the project to ensure Portland region’s freeway system kept running smoothly amid widespread wildfire evacuations in Oregon. The following day, ODOT announced the new Saturday start date. The wildfires threw a wrench into the proceedings, but there were no other last-minute hiccups during preparations for the project itself.
Closure of the northbound Interstate Bridge span begins Saturday - September 17, 2020
The nine-day closure of the northbound span of the I-5 Interstate Bridge is set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. The closure will bring with it the possibility of nine days of major congestion throughout the Portland and Vancouver area. Travelers should be prepared. Consider delaying or shifting trips, taking transit, or working from home or another location if possible. Make a plan and not only will you help your own commute but maybe help reduce congestion for everyone else as well.
I-5 Bridge trunnion project delayed by one week - September 11, 2020
The Interstate 5 Bridge trunnion replacement project – and the accompanying nine-day closure of the northbound span of the twin bridges – is now scheduled to begin Sept. 19, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced Friday. The news comes one day after the agency announced a last-minute delay of the project, which had previously been scheduled to begin Sept. 12. The pieces were all in place; the replacement components were waiting on a barge, the falsework was built and the crane and other equipment stood at the ready. After two years of planning and outreach, the project was all set to begin this morning. Then came the wildfires.
I-5 Interstate Bridge project will now begin Saturday Sept. 19 - September 11, 2020
ODOT has rescheduled the start of the I-5 Interstate Bridge Trunnion Replacement Project for Sept. 19 following its postponement because of wildfires. The northbound span had been set to close at 12:01 a.m. Saturday to replace major components of the lift mechanism on the 1917 span. The project will keep the northbound structure closed for nine days. On Thursday evening, ODOT postponed the work to help keep the roads as clear as possible for wildfire evacuees and emergency responders.
Oregon wildfires put massive Interstate 5 Bridge repair project on hold - September 10, 2020
A massive project to rebuild a portion of the Interstate 5 Bridge was put on hold Thursday out of concerns that evacuees from Oregon wildfires would overwhelm the region’s freeway system. The postponement was announced late Thursday by the Oregon Department of Transportation. The closure of the northbound span of the Interstate 5 Bridge had been scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and last for nine days. The project would replace parts in the lift mechanism in the south tower of the 103-year-old northbound span. The project has been in the works for more than two years, timed to coincide with lower traffic levels and river flows in the Columbia River. A new date for the project has not been determined.
ODOT postpones Interstate Bridge closure - September 10, 2020
ODOT has postponed the I-5 Interstate Bridge Trunnion Replacement Project to keep the highway system as clear as possible for wildfire evacuees. ODOT and WSDOT will be reaching out to contractors and the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss the new schedule. The closure of the northbound span of the Interstate Bridge had been scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and last for nine days. The project would replace parts in the lift mechanism in south tower of the 103-year-old northbound span. “ODOT and our many partners have put a lot of work into this project over the last few years and it absolutely needs to get done,” said Rian Windsheimer, ODOT manager for the Portland area. “But this closure would have created additional congestion and right now we need to keep the highways moving for evacuees and emergency responders.”
I-5 Interstate Bridge closure begins Saturday - September 10, 2020
At first it was years away, then months and weeks and days away and now the Sept. 12-20 closure of the northbound span of the Interstate Bridge is just hours away. The closure begins at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and with it comes the possibility of nine days of major congestion throughout the Portland and Vancouver area. If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to plan an alternative to using the Interstate Bridge: maybe work from home, travel at off times, use mass transit or use an alternate route. But remember, the Interstate 205 Glenn Jackson Bridge can’t easily absorb all the rerouting traffic.
Congestion management in store for travelers on southbound I-5 in Vancouver - September 8, 2020
New high-tech travel tools on Interstate 5 will debut this week to help improve trip reliability through Vancouver for years to come. Beginning on Thursday, Sept. 3, new ramp meters at Northeast 78th Street, Main Street, State Route 500/39th Street, Fourth Plain Boulevard, Mill Plain Boulevard and at SR 14/Washington Street in downtown will activate in response to real-time conditions to help reduce traffic backups and delays along the corridor. “During peak travel times this stretch of highway sees consistent congestion and a significant number of crashes,” said Mike Briggs, WSDOT engineer. “The solution is not always adding more lanes or infrastructure at a high cost, but rather enhancing what we have in a smarter, safer and more efficient way. Installing ramp meters and smart technology tools is a cost-effective strategy that helps reduce congestion and improves safety.”
Looking back at 1997 Interstate 5 Bridge repair as upcoming project looms - September 8, 2020
Boats transported parcels from one side of the river to the other. A fatal crash snarled traffic for hours. A contractor’s speedy repair job finished the project in a third of the expected time. September 1997 was the last time all the northbound lanes of the Interstate 5 Bridge shut down for a repair of this magnitude. While it’s happening again starting Saturday, one can only hope that the repairs will go as quickly. It was a time with less commuter traffic: More than 50,000 commuters used the bridge in 1997, compared with roughly 72,000 today. In 1997, the project was expected to last up to three weeks, but a speedy repair crew finished it – much to commuters’ delight – in just six days.
Interstate Bridge closure: Plan for life without the span - September 6, 2020
If anyone out there doesn’t yet know about the upcoming nine-day closure of the northbound Interstate 5 Bridge, consider this your official warning. In six days, the northbound span of the twin drawbridges will close to all traffic while crews undertake a $13 million maintenance project to replace parts of its century-old lift system. All freeway traffic will use the southbound span from Sept. 12 to 20. Halving the capacity of one of the Portland region’s only two Columbia River crossing points has the potential to create some spectacularly unpleasant traffic congestion
New I-5 ramp meters go live in Vancouver - September 3, 2020
The Washington State Department of Transportation has spent the past few months installing a series of upgrades to its traffic management system along Interstate 5 through Vancouver. Some of the new technology is scheduled to go live starting today. The agency announced Wednesday that it will begin using newly installed ramp meters at the Northeast 78th Street, Main Street, state Highway 500, Fourth Plain Boulevard, Mill Plain Boulevard and State Highway 14 interchanges. The meters activate in response to the real-time traffic conditions to help reduce congestion along the corridor. The upgrades also included new overhead electronic message signs, advisory speed limit signs, and cameras and pavement sensors to monitor traffic and weather. Those other components are scheduled to go live Tuesday.