Whatcom County seeks lower speed limit at Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Portal Way intersection

Published on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County Public Works staff are recommending that the speed limit on two small sections of county roads east of Birch Bay  be lowered in preparation for an eventual stoplight.

County engineer Joe Rutan is proposing the speed limit on sections of Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Portal Way be dropped from 50 mph to 35 mph.

The road sections stretch 1,000 feet from the intersection of the two roads, near the Birch Bay Square shopping center.
The speed limit change will pave the way for installation of a traffic light to replace the existing four-way stop signs. The project will include, among other things, dedicated left and right turn lanes, a crosswalk spanning the southern portion of Portal Way and integration with the nearby railroad crossing. Construction is expected to last from May to September of 2013.

The project has received about $2.1 million in federal and state grants so far, and county public works staff have requested an additional $1.95 million in state funds to cover the total cost, public works design engineer Kevin Thompson said. Public works staff do not expect to hear if their request will be granted until later this summer.

The intersection was scheduled to be improved years ago to handle the predicted number increase in traffic, when the Peace Arch Factory Outlets as it was formerly called, was built. The project received federal funds at the time, but they had to be returned when traffic at the shopping center dropped precipitously, causing the project to be shelved.

County engineers dusted off the plans in 2007 when the shopping center, under new owners, began to attract new tenants and, in turn, new customers.

The project differs from the intersection at Grandview and Portal Way in that it includes dedicated right and left turn lanes to handle a predicted increase in traffic flow over the next 20 years.

Whatcom County Council voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance changing the speed limit at the June 5 council meeting. A public hearing on the speed limit change has been set for the Tuesday, June 19, Whatcom County Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the county council chambers in Bellingham.