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Money for Camas Slough bridge improvements could be headed down the road

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The $25 million that Washington legislators set aside to widen the Camas Slough Bridge could be headed a few miles west for a project to to widen SR-14 between Interstate 205 and SE 164th Avenue.

Officials said widening SR-14 would relieve congestion during commutes, which is a more pressing issue for people in Camas, Washougal, and East Vancouver.

The updated transportation bill passed the Washington House and Senate in late April.

Nathan Balholm lives in Washougal and used to commute to work in Portland’s Pearl District. While he would be happy to see the bridge get widened, he is in favor of widening SR-14 to relieve congestion instead. He knows firsthand how bad the traffic can be during the morning commute.

“If you don't get there before seven o’clock in the morning, you're stuck,” he said.

The City of Camas has also showed support for reallocating the funds.

“The delays on SR-14 between 164th and I-205 impact our residents far greater than anything on the slough bridge,” said Peter Capell, Camas City Administrator. “We still want the slough bridge, but we think this is a higher priority and needs to be done sooner.”

Some folks who regularly drive across the bridge are concerned with safety. Just days after the funding bill passed through the legislature, a five car crash on the bridge sent multiple people to the hospital, including a young girl who was critically injured.

Capell says the bridge is far safer now than it used to be. A few years ago Washington Department of Transportation added a guard rail to divide both sides of the highway to improve safety.

WSDOT data shows the real safety problem may actually be on SR-14 where the new project is planned.

Between 2011 and 2016, there were 32 crashes on SR-14 within a half mile of the bridge. Within a half-mile of the new project, there were 352.

Traffic reports indicate this section of SR-14 between I-205 and SE 164th is one of the most congested stretches of road in the city, especially during the morning commute.

Senator Ann Rivers represents the cities of Washougal and Camas in the Washington State Senate. She advocated for the funds to be moved from the bridge further down SR-14. The funds actually moved from a location within her district to a location outside the district.

“It’s a more impactful investment, for approximately the same cost,” Rivers said.

While commuters feel the impact of the traffic on SR-14 in the new project area, so do those who live in nearby neighborhoods.

During commute hours, especially the morning, residents who live along Evergreen Highway, which runs parallel to SR-14, deal with a big spike in traffic. Residents say commuters use their neighborhood street as a way around SR-14 congestion.

“It's a known frontage road for the highway,” said Krista Bulger, who lives near Evergreen Highway.

Traffic data from the City of Vancouver shows as many as 600 drivers use Evergreen Highway during the morning commute. The rest of the day those hours numbers rarely rise above 200.

“Mornings are the worst time, lots of traffic, it's really hard to get out of the street,” Bulger said.

The Columbia River Neighborhood Association favored reallocating the funds to congestion relief on SR-14, in part to relieve the traffic impact in their neighborhood.

The transportation bill, which includes the funding for SR-14 congestion, passed both the house and senate comfortably. Governor Jay Inslee has not yet signed it. WSDOT says preliminary engineering work will begin this year, construction could begin in 2020.

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