Birch Bay’s designation as a small town without a stoplight has a limited future as county engineers intend to begin construction this summer that will result in a traffic signal at the intersection of Portal Way and Birch Bay-Lynden Road.
Kevin Thompson, a design engineer for Whatcom County public works, said work is expected to begin this August and continue through the early fall. It will likely take two seasons to complete.
The first phase of construction this summer will include installing drainage systems, a retention pond and wetland mitigation areas. Next spring, work will resume, which will include roadway widening, paving, installation of the traffic signal and railroad crossing upgrades.
Crews will raise the intersection to match that of the railroad tracks just west of the intersection.
“The grade change adjacent to the railroad tracks currently is very abrupt,” Thompson explained. “The intersection will be raised east of the railroad crossing to create a more comfortable and safe ride in vehicles.”
Burlington National Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) will install a new railroad signal, new rail sensors and new crossing arms at the crossing. In addition, the four legs of the intersection will be channelized to allow for left turn, through and right turn traffic movement. Other changes will include paving several hundred feet down each road and illumination at the intersection.
Birch Bay drivers should expect delays at the intersection during portions of the construction.
“There may be short periods of time where Birch Bay-Lynden Road will be closed at the railroad crossing when BNSF is installing their upgrades,” Thompson said. “During that time, a detour will be in place to reroute traffic. The contractor and the county will do their best to coordinate the work in the most efficient means possible to minimize impacts to adjacent businesses.”
The project will cost $4.3 million, with funding coming from federal and state grants as well as the county transportation budget.
Plans to improve the intersection have been in the works for years. When Birch Bay Square was known as the Birch Bay outlet mall, county engineers planned upgrades to handle a predicted surge in traffic. When traffic through the intersection dropped, the project was shelved, but was rekindled in 2007 when the shopping center began to attract more customers under new ownership.
In 2012, the average daily traffic volume traveling through the intersection was 14,000 vehicles for Birch Bay-Lynden Road and about 4,000 vehicles for Portal Way, and was trending upward, Thompson said.