Ribbon cutting participants agree - slowing down for roundabouts better than stopping and waiting at traffic signals

By guest blogger Mike Westbay

Don Whitehouse, WSDOT regional administrator and Paula
Hammond, state secretary of transportation, hold the ribbon
cut in celebration of completing the I-82 Valley Mall
Boulevard project in Union Gap.
Completion of new ramps and the third and final roundabout at the Valley Mall Boulevard/ Interstate 82 interchange marks the end of construction on a project that already has improved traffic flow and reduced collisions in Union Gap.

On Monday, Oct. 31, local, state and federal officials joined the Washington State Department of Transportation in celebrating the interchange improvements with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The $34 million, 18-month reconstruction project  included installation of three large roundabouts, two new interstate bridges built higher for better clearance and wider for future expansion, and new on-ramps and off-ramps that allow traffic to access the interstate without waiting at stop signs or traffic signals.

"These improvements relieved traffic congestion at the busiest intersection in Union Gap, opened access to businesses and kept 140 men and women working, " said state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. "Investments like this one help the economic vitality of the area and provide family wage jobs - important benefits at this time in our recovering economy."

Since the first two new roundabouts opened in November of last year, traffic flow has improved and traffic data shows that collisions in the area have been cut in half. Some 22,000 vehicles use the Valley Mall Boulevard interchange each day and, prior to the reconstruction, occasionally backed up onto I-82.

"Prior to reconstruction I can remember waiting for several minutes in long lines to get through the signalized intersections," said Don Whitehouse, WSDOT regional administrator. "Now the longest I've waited to get through the new roundabouts is about 10 seconds."

Apollo Inc. of Kennewick was the general contractor on the project, which was the largest project funded in Yakima County by federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money. Funding also came from the state's 2005 Transportation Partnership gas-tax increase.

The project was completed on time and half a million dollars under budget.