WARRENTON — One of the most interesting aspects of a visit to the new Walmart, as it turns out, may be the commute.
Increased traffic to the retail giant has exacerbated existing patterns and created new ones. Representatives from Clatsop County, Warrenton, the state Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies met last week to discuss the issues and brainstorm solutions.
“I think it’d be fair to say there were always minor problems, and once you increase the traffic, those minor problems become major problems,” Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore said.
Many of the issues are taking place at a segment of Ensign Lane between Discovery Lane and the largest entrance to the Walmart parking lot. That portion of the road includes what is referred to as a “pork chop” concrete island. Its shape allows drivers to turn left onto Discovery Lane while prohibiting — in theory — those leaving the Walmart parking lot from making a left turn when entering the busy street.
The lane at the parking lot’s exit— a few steps southeast of U.S. Highway 101 — has been designated as a right turn only. But some drivers are choosing not to make a right turn, which would require them to make other turns to eventually find their way back to the intersection of the street and the highway, Warrenton Police Chief Mathew Workman said. Instead they are making illegal left turns onto Ensign Lane and driving around the island.
Considering the traffic coming from a number of businesses on Discovery Lane across the street, these turns have created hazards.
“That was an unintended consequence,” Workman said. “We’ve had lots of near misses.”
Officers have also seen issues with drivers making illegal U-turns in the area.
When turning left from the highway onto Ensign Lane, the street signal — rather than solid green and yellow lights — flashes a yellow light. The flashing yellow light means people turning left should yield to oncoming traffic, which can come in droves on the busy road.
While nothing is finalized, officials at the meeting discussed reprogramming street signals, as well as possibly reconfiguring islands. In the next few weeks, drivers can expect changes to signs, potential left-turn restrictions and road striping. One sign, for instance, may indicate near the exit from the Walmart parking lot that there is no left-turn access to the highway.
Warrenton police have also upped patrols.
“The whole area, with all the businesses being concentrated there, you’re going to have a lot of traffic,” Workman said. “When the signage and the barriers don’t clarify things, that’s when we need to fix it.”
Traffic congestion and driver confusion have been common with constant construction over the past few years. More businesses are on their way, including those that will be located at the future site of the North Coast Business Park near 19th Street and Ensign Lane.
In turn, officials will continue to grapple with traffic for the foreseeable future.
“These are typically good problems to have,” Moore said. “When you experience some growth, you have to figure out how to deal with it.”