Traffic impact less than feared after changes to Camp Murray gate

A year after a new main gate at Camp Murray was opened farther from the freeway, a traffic study shows the impact to neighborhood streets isn’t as severe as initially feared by Tillicum residents who fought the relocation.

But despite data that show an overall decline in daily car trips through the neighborhood since the gate was moved, some Tillicum residents say their concerns about backups and speeding are still real.

“We consciously don’t schedule appointments if we can avoid it after 4:30 p.m.,” said Tillicum resident Pat O’Brien.

He said there’s a line of cars that backs up every afternoon on North Thorne Lane Southwest when Camp Murray personnel leave for the day.

“There’s a period of time where if it weren’t for the goodness of other drivers that let you in, you’d be stuck,” O’Brien said.

The backup typically clears by 6 p.m, he said. A similar line forms earlier, at lunchtime.

O’Brien, who opposed the gate relocation, lives off Thorne Lane near its connection to Interstate 5. This area saw an increase in cars similar to what was predicted, according to a recent traffic study done by Transpo Group.

Engineers assumed more cars would use Berkeley Avenue to access both directions of I-5, but the study found more drivers appear to be using Thorne to access the northbound freeway lanes, said Desiree Winkler, Lakewood’s transportation division manager.

The result: Fewer cars than predicted are using Berkeley.

Poor timing of the signals at the Thorne interchange results in the backup. The state Department of Transportation controls the signals. Its priority is to make sure cars don’t back up on the freeway, Winkler said.

“We’ll work with Washington DOT on the signal timing to see if they can give a little more green time to the folks leaving the area as opposed to those getting in,” Winkler said. “Ultimately those interchanges are undersized and need to be replaced.”

A 2010 traffic study showed 6,900 daily car trips in and out of Tillicum using Thorne. Trips were predicted to increase to 7,300 with the gate relocation. A study completed earlier this year counted 7,200 daily trips.

Meanwhile, traffic on Portland Avenue SW, where many residents feared negative impacts, hasn’t reached forecasted levels.

The 2010 study counted 1,800 trips a day on Portland between Lake and Maple streets SW. Estimates predicted trips to increase to 2,700 after the gate relocation, but the recent study counted 2,100 trips a day.

The study also counted 1,600 fewer trips a day to and from the Portland Avenue gate. Camp Murray moved some of its operations to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and restricted access at its rear gate, resulting in the reduction.

Tillicum residents fought the gate relocation from 2010 to 2012. To address concerns and to help slow traffic on Portland Avenue, the city installed a raised crosswalk. It has the option to install three more, but the recent traffic study shows they aren’t needed yet.

“In this case we’ll keep an eye on it, but it’s not warranted for us to take action,” Winkler said.

The recent traffic study found people are driving 5-10 mph above the posted 25 mph speed limit on Portland, but the speeding isn’t tied to peak traffic times for Camp Murray.

Camp Murray gave $100,000 to the city to alleviate some of the negative traffic impacts from the gate move, including speeding. The city wants to use $85,000 to add sidewalks to Union Avenue between Berkeley and Maple streets to improve pedestrian safety.

David Anderson, who heads the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association, thinks that’s a misuse of the funds.

“The money was earmarked in its entirety for traffic-calming purposes,” Anderson said. He wants the money used to address speeding concerns on Portland.

Improving heavily traveled Union Avenue is a proper use of the money, Winkler said. One condition of the gate relocation was for commercial trucks to use Union, and sidewalks would protect pedestrians from those big rigs.

“We believe that adding curbs, gutters and sidewalks to Union Avenue is great mitigation,” she said.

Roughly a dozen residents at a neighborhood meeting May 1 asked Winkler to do more to stop speeding. The city will set aside $15,000 — the remainder of the $100,000 – to address future problems, she said. That amount could pay for the addition of three speed humps or a permanent radar sign.