A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

On this island, you’re surrounded by cars

Written January 14th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

It looks kind of like a park but is surrounded by the constant flow of traffic.

With time on my hands, it occurred to me today that there was a place in Albany where I could not recall ever having been.

Actually there are lots of Albany locations I have never visited. This one, though, I have seen twice a day as I was driving by — going and coming — almost every day since it was completed in 1998. But I had never actually set foot there.

I’m talking, of course, of the nicely landscaped traffic island in the middle of the Big Y formed by Pacific Boulevard and Santiam Highway, also known as southeast Albany’s Bermuda Triangle.

So, today, the bike took me there, as you can see:

There’s nothing to see there, except the landscaping and the concrete walkways. The noise reminds you that you’re never more than a few feet away from traffic.

ODOT has come in for a good deal of ribbing over the years for the design of this complex intersection. But what else could they have done? They had to accommodate traffic on two busy highways, one of which had to be turned into a couplet in order to meet traffic demand. And then there was busy Geary Street cutting through the middle of it.

You have to admit that even though it looks like the work of Rube Goldberg, especially on a map or from the air, on the ground it works pretty well. Its nickname notwithstanding, no one has yet driven into the Y without finding his way out.

Unless they went on the island on foot or on a bike and got lost in the woods. (hh)

11 responses to “On this island, you’re surrounded by cars”

  1. Sharon Konopa says:

    The “Couplet” project was 25 years ago. We had many meetings afterwards over who was to maintain the landscaping. ODOT granted the city back then around $300k (more or less) to maintain the landscaping forever. We charged that fund annually to cover the cost. Until the downturn of the economy the council agreed to roll the funds into parks operations to avoid more cuts to the programs. I remember being very adamant about keeping the flower beds on the ends of each island and make sure the area is kept up. I was worried if we did not have dedicated funds, for long term landscaping, then future councils and staff would forget about the obligation and the area would become one giant weed patch. Staff assured me they will always maintain the space and to this day they have done a great job in keeping the area up. Several times there might be horsetail weeds taking over the bark dust or the weeds getting out of control, but overall it is a nice addition to the streetscape of two highways crossing one another.

  2. Troy Mickelsen says:

    I remember when that bicycle officer would work seatbelt and cell phone enforcement out on that island. He would get tons of tickets, because like you said, you are surrounded by cars. :-)

  3. Lyle says:

    Hasso, hard to believe it’s been 25 years ago that the street change was made. Time sure flies, I would be willing to bet most people nowadays don’t understand the Rube Goldberg” reference. Another term for that intersection is also “malfunction junction”.

  4. Don says:

    What AB ordeal place for a roundabour.

  5. Ray Kopczynski says:

    A few years back, ODOT did attempt to mitigate some of the traffic flow issues by changing lane striping and eliminating the option to move into the left lane coming south prior to the stop light. Took a bit to getting used to and now it is sometimes an issue getting into the left lanes – especially if you’re behind folks wanting to slow down to turn right into Goodwill. But in the main, I think the changes did help overall…

  6. Patricia Eich says:

    I enjoy the beautiful landscaping there, especially spring and summer when it is bursting with flowers. Thank you Sharon for the info on how it is funded.

  7. James Engel says:

    If we are going to persist in driving cars we’re going to have to put up with some inconvenience’s regarding traffic lanes. Just be patient & courteous. The vehicles horn was meant as a warning device & not to blow off steam at the ignorance of other drivers..


    Fun and informative. I’ve called it the Bermuda Triangle since moving here but didn’t know anyone else did.


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