Traffic congestion in North Albany has been a topic before the city council and the planning commission lately. The message as I understood it: There’s nothing much that can be done.
Tuesday night was another of those evenings when inbound traffic on Highway 20 was stacked up past the curves, as drivers from Corvallis, from North Albany Road and Spring Hill Drive all converged trying to get over the Ellsworth Street Bridge. The contractor on the downtown “streetscape” project was working on Ellsworth.
Transportation Systems Analyst Ron Irish told the council at a work session last week that the downtown streetscape project was the cause of more frequent congestion on Highway 20, sometimes backing up to near Hyak Park. Delays because of slower traffic through downtown should ease when the project is finished later this year.
As for North Albany intersections, even though there are delays especially during peak traffic in the morning, all the intersections now meet the performance standards the city goes by.
At the North Albany/Gibson Hill roundabout, Irish blames problems on the uneven distribution of traffic, most of it inbound on Gibson Hill. Roundabouts work best if traffic on all roads feeding them is about even. But at this one, things won’t change until North Albany Road is extended from its current terminus westward to link up with Crocker Lane. That connection could take some of the traffic now using Gibson Hill, but according to Irish, because of wetlands and so forth, that link would probably be the most expensive road the city would ever build. The implication: Don’t hold your breath.
There’s been talk for decades about a third Albany bridge across the Willamette, supplementing the two bridges completed in 1925 and 1973, each carrying traffic one way only.
Albany officials once thought the third bridge — probably downstream and feeding Conser Road in Millersburg — would solve the problem by taking drivers headed for I-5 northbound off the Highway 20 route through downtown. More recent modeling, though, according to Irish, has raised doubts about the benefits. In any case, a new bridge near North Albany would cost hundreds of millions and is not in the offing.
One potential change — twin left-turn lanes from Spring Hill on Highway 20 — would help a little. But ODOT won’t allow it because of the super elevation of the highway curve there has contributed to trucks turning over. ODOT might some day fix that but has made no move to do so.
What about stopping new housing subdivisions in North Albany to prevent more traffic? State law apparently allows holding up development projects for six months, but during that period a solution has to be worked out and then the project must be allowed to proceed. Fat chance of finding traffic solutions in that short a period of time.
It’s obvious that in North Albany and environs, geography has combined with economics and public policy to create traffic bottlenecks that cannot be avoided or opened up. The choices people have? Just bear it, or work from home, or reschedule your commute to avoid the periods when traffic is at a peak. (hh)