Work will begin tonight, Oct. 29, on the roundabouts on Slater Road at the northbound and southbound I-5 on- and off-ramps, as well as the Pacific Highway intersection. The roundabouts will help reduce backups and the chances of traffic collisions.
Weather is a major factor in this project, as contractor crews need dry conditions for paving. Crews will start by removing existing traffic islands and repaving those areas. Once that is complete, the crews build one roundabout at a time, as weather conditions allow. This could take several days to a few weeks.
Due to limited sight distances, vehicles waiting to turn left onto or from Slater Road sometimes create backups that reach onto the right lane of I-5 at peak hours. At peak-travel times, as many as 1,600 cars travel through each of these intersections per hour.
Whatcom County is funding most of the $350,000 project. Whatcom County Engineer Joe Rutan is looking forward to the intersection improvements. “We’re excited about this low-cost traffic solution with a large benefit for those who travel in that area,” he said.
The Washington State Department of Transportation is overseeing the work of the project contractor, Granite Construction.
WSDOT Mount Baker Area Assistant Regional Administrator Todd Harrison said the agency was pleased to be able to work with Whatcom County to create a practical design project that improves safety. “Compact roundabouts will help traffic get through these intersections more safely because they create more of a merging action rather than crossing in front of on-coming traffic,” he said.
What drivers can expect
Contractor crews will work from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. weeknights starting Wednesday, Oct. 29, if weather conditions allow. If there is a high probability of rain, work will not take place. Drivers can expect lane closures during construction hours. Flaggers will guide traffic through the work zone.
Crews will remove existing curbs and traffic islands at the three intersections during the first two nights of work. Each compact roundabout will be installed in one night. Drivers going through the current intersection one evening will see a new roundabout the following morning.
The work will take two to three weeks to complete, depending on the weather. Dry conditions are needed for paving the center islands and striping the roadway.
Cost-effective traffic solution
WSDOT recommended the compact roundabouts as a practical, low-cost solution for the intersections after examining several options, including making each a four-way stop, installing traffic signals or adding full roundabouts. Four-way stops would create even bigger traffic back-ups, especially at peak hours. Signals or full roundabouts cost about $1.5 to $2.5 million each. Compact roundabouts can be built in the existing paved area for about $100,000 apiece.
About compact roundabouts
Compact roundabouts are similar to full roundabouts because they use a raised center island to direction traffic flow. However, compact roundabouts have a smaller diameter: about 62 to 67 feet at these three intersections, compared to up to 120 feet for a full roundabout. As well, the center island of a compact roundabout is three inches tall, allowing the rear wheels of longer trucks and trailers to ride up onto the island to help them navigate the roundabout.
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