Neighbors Seek Ban of Big Rigs on 39th Street

By Stephanie Rice, December 26, 2013, The Columbian

More than a year has passed since Greg Martin and a few of his neighbors in west Vancouver’s Lincoln neighborhood started distributing signs reading, “No semis on 39th!”


All he’s heard from city officials about increased truck traffic on the two-lane street has been the “usual political blah-blah-blah,” said Martin, a retired city firefighter who has lived on 39th Street for 32 years. He now has a more pointed sign outside his home, reading, “Thank you city of Vancouver for destroying another neighborhood with trucks and higher speeds!”


“I’m still frustrated,” Martin said Thursday. He said he’s told by city staff that speeding on the two-lane street should be taken up with the police department, and he’s spoken with the sergeant in charge of the traffic unit and knows how few officers are assigned.


He said he and his wife are considering selling their home, but he still has hope the city will take steps to limit trucks.


But he and his neighbors shouldn’t expect relief soon, as the city’s director of public works explained recently in an email.


Brian Carlson acknowledged the city could ban oversize trucks that require a trip permit from using 39th Street, but said that won’t satisfy residents.


“We will follow up on that,” Carlson wrote, referring to the ban on oversize trucks. “But given the low number of these trips (0 to 5 a month,) that will have a negligible effect in the overall debate currently going on with regard to truck traffic.”


Carlson’s Dec. 9 email to City Manager Eric Holmes, which was shared with Mayor Tim Leavitt and city councilors, was provided to The Columbian recently under the newspaper’s standing public disclosure request for all council emails.


In October, the city issued a fact sheet about 39th Street, explaining its classification as an arterial that’s open to commercial and residential traffic. Councilor Bart Hansen, who has been talking to Martin, later asked Holmes what steps the city council could take to get tractor-trailer rigs off of 39th Street.


Hansen, who attended Hudson’s Bay High School and grew up on the west side, said despite Carlson’s Dec. 9 response, he plans to keep pushing the issue.


“Granted, truck traffic might be a very small percentage of what goes up and down 39th Street,” Hansen said Tuesday. But when it has multiplied on a street that’s lined with homes, it’s going to be noticed, he said.


The city anticipated traffic would increase on 39th Street following the November 2010 opening of a new, $19 million bridge that the state Department of Transportation built over railroad tracks at the 39th Street crossing. The city worked with the Lincoln Neighborhood Association to pay for $600,000 worth of upgrades on 39th Street, including signing, striping and pedestrian signal improvements.


Still, Hansen said, Martin and other neighbors are understandably upset about the increase in truck traffic.


According to city traffic counts at 39th Street and Kauffman Avenue, total daily traffic volume has increased from 7,179 vehicles in 2007 to 8,398 this year. At 39th and Washington Street, the daily vehicle count has increased from 9,067 in 2009 to 10,953 in 2013.


The number of trucks — defined as vehicles with four or more axles — as a percentage of total traffic at the Kauffman Avenue intersection has increased from 1.6 percent in 2007 to 3.7 percent this year, and from 3.3 percent to 4.1 percent at the Washington Street intersection.


“Traffic speeds for 85 percent of vehicles remain about the same, in general, and continue to be slightly more than the posted 25 (mph), which is lower than most arterials in Vancouver,” according to the city’s fact sheet. The average speed this year was clocked at 31 mph, down from 32 six years ago.


Yet as Carlson made clear in his email, banning tractor-trailers would not be simple.


“The first step (and it’s a major and lengthy one heavy with process) would need to be to change the classification from an arterial to a collector,” Carlson wrote.


Additionally, the city’s comprehensive plan would have to be changed and a study on what banning truck traffic on 39th Street would be needed to predict impacts on other streets. The change would also need to be approved by the state Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, Carlson wrote.


Carlson wrote that since 39th Street is one of only four roads — along with Mill Plain and Fourth Plain Boulevards and Northwest 78th Street — that provides access from Interstate 5 to the industrial area along Fruit Valley Road and the Port of Vancouver, banning trucks on 39th would force them to one of the other access roads, most likely Fourth Plain.


Hansen said Fourth Plain and Mill Plain are wide enough to handle the additional truck traffic.


Carlson wrote that tractor-trailers cannot be banned outright without some substantive reason.


“The most applicable reason is that the design/condition of the street may not be compatible (from a physical design standpoint) with large trucks,” he wrote. “Typically these are related to weight and or height/width restrictions. Without some imminent threat to the physical condition of the roadway or safety, it is hard to find legitimate reasons to ban trucks on a given roadway. Then there is the matter of enforcement,” he said.


Hansen still wants to talk about the possibility of a ban on all tractor-trailers, not just trucks carrying oversize loads.


“This is a neighborhood issue that they are bringing to us. This is what the city council does. We work for the citizens of Vancouver, not the city of Vancouver,” Hansen said. “We need to actually openly discuss this, and we need to be looking toward the future of 39th Street,” he said. “Trucks are like water, they are going to flow the easiest way.”


As for banning the oversize loads that require trip permits from Clark County, Diana Hintz, who issues the permits for the county, said she has been trying to direct truck loads that exceed height, width or weight restrictions away from 39th Street.


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