Wilsonville awash in a sea of I-5 induced traffic
City working to make improvements despite rising tides of traffic
With the holiday season in full swing, 'tis the season for irritable and rushed drivers and mounting congestion. Many throughout Wilsonville have bemoaned the current state of traffic throughout town and have directed the blame toward City Hall. But according to Wilsonville's Community Development Director Nancy Kraushaar, much of the city's mobility problems are largely inherited from Metro growth and previous planning decisions along Interstate 5.
Regardless of the the $21 million the City and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) poured into the I-5 interchange at Wilsonville Road in 2012 — and ongoing work by the City to keep traffic flowing — numerous factors continue to choke traffic.
One of the main problems Wilsonville faces is that the city is sandwiched between a series of freeway interchanges. To the north, vehicles from Interstate 205 pour onto I-5 southbound, creating slowdowns from weaving and merging. To the south, the Miley Road and Highway 551 interchanges stack nearly on top of each other, causing even more extensive weaving and merging patterns, often bringing the section to a near standstill on the Boone Bridge right before the Wilsonville Road interchange.
These numerous points of erratic traffic flow lead to further delays and worsen the backup, Kraushaar said. Unfortunately, there's little to nothing that the City can do to improve these issues because I-5 is ODOT territory.
"We are doing what we can at City Hall," she said. From creating a variety of Wilsonville specific roadwork projects, including the Kinsman Extension, Brown Road to Boones Ferry Connector and the recently approved plan to add an additional, third lane to the I-5 southbound ramp — removed waiting cars on Wilsonville Road — the City intends take advantage of every congestion reduction strategy possible.
For the opponents of urban development and population growth within Wilsonville, Kraushaar points to an influx in population throughout metro as the root of the problem.
"The population of Wilsonville is increasing but most of our streets have sufficient capacity to serve the population," she said. "Our problem comes in with I-5."
As population continually increases — 400,000 new residents within the metro area are expected by 2035 — and congestion worsens, the City plans to continue to encourage ODOT to explore all options available to improve traffic flow on I-5 and the many interchanges surrounding Wilsonville. But change takes money and applying for grants and gathering funds takes time.
"The real issue is funding," Kraushaar said. "The state is looking at some sort of transportation package, but we don't know what that will look like or what projects would be funded. The next high-capacity project is the Southwest Corridor Plan."
A light-rail system designed to run through Portland, Tigard and Tualatin, the Southwest Corridor project could improve traffic in Wilsonville slightly through a trickledown effect by pulling traffic off of the roads, but that's the extent of it.
"A light-rail project like this benefits the whole region," said Eryn Deeming Kehe, Senior Communications Specialist at Metro. Although a light-rail car won't get stuck in traffic, it's not guaranteed that the line will benefit Wilsonville since the city is so far south. Despite that, the Southwest Corridor project is a fairly high priority for metro and ODOT, Kraushaar points out that the new light-rail also hasn't received any funding as of yet.
Unless funding miraculously appears, the City's hands are tied and Wilsonvillians may have to get used to the idea of avoiding the chokepoints or giving themselves more travel time.
"I think that the City has done what we can and City staff is still working," Kraushaar said. "The good news is that it's not bad everyday."