Letter to the editor: Action needed to improve safety at Woodland onramp


When will the Washington State Department of Transportation improve safety just south of the milepost 21 onramp at Woodland? In the past 24 years of living on Horseshoe Lake, we have witnessed dozens of vehicles that have left Interstate 5, crashed through the state’s fence, and landed on Woodland’s Lakeshore Drive on the east side of Horseshoe Lake. It’s no wonder, since there are trees blocking a good view as well as a short, low onramp onto I-5 that make visibility difficult. Then, there are no guard rails or concrete-reinforced barriers to keep vehicles from leaving the freeway along the stretch of I-5 above Lakeshore Drive.

The accident that occurred on Dec. 2 is heartbreaking. A father of seven, on his way to work, lost his life when his car was forced from the center lane by another driver, where his vehicle then left I-5 and landed in Horseshoe Lake. This is not the first vehicle that has soared from I-5 to come to rest in the lake, but many others regularly plow right through the state’s fence that is not capable of stopping them, and then land on Woodland’s Lakeshore Drive. 

The vehicle on Dec. 2 was forced off the freeway and came through at the area where the fence and a light pole already lay smashed to the ground from a previous incident. Who knows what impact the lack of light from that pole as well as the missing fence might have had on the outcome of this accident. The state must have felt that light at that location was necessary, or the pole would never have been installed, yet it was not replaced in a timely manner.

Note: This Dec. 2 accident occurred even before the WSDOT fence and sign had been replaced from a previous incident.

Flimsy dividers between Woodland and I-5 on both the west and east sides of Woodland are made up of various types of metal fencing patched together each time there is another accident. But when the fence gets fixed, the problem does not. Also, the repairs are often not made in a timely manner, making it easy for pedestrians to walk back and forth from I-5 onto Lakeshore Drive or another of Woodland’s roads that border the freeway, creating the potential for additional problems.

Lakeshore Drive, which parallels I-5 southbound, is part of the Horseshoe Lake Trail, which came about as a partnership with Clark and Cowlitz counties and the city of Woodland in the 90s. This is a dedicated, semi-developed, 2.5-mile walking trail that loops around the Horseshoe Lake area. Approximately 1.4 miles of the trail network is within the city, while the remaining segments are outside of Woodland’s city limits, and the trail is within both Cowlitz and Clark counties. The developed portion of the trail includes a paved path along Lakeshore Drive, then west along Pinkerton Drive, and north along South Pekin Drive to the Woodland city line. The undeveloped portion continues north on Fifth Street, east on Davidson Avenue (downtown area), north along Goerig Street, and east on Park Street, then back to Lakeshore Drive. 

Woodland’s skate park is located at the east end of Horseshoe Lake Park and Lakeshore Road. I was told that 15 to 18 months ago, a car left I-5, crossed Lakeshore Drive, and hit the cable box near the skate park, where many of Woodland’s children play. This is also the entrance to the Horseshoe Lake Park, a busy and popular place for family recreation. The fence in that area has yet to be repaired.

Many vehicles travel Lakeshore Drive multiple times per day, including school buses. People drive, walk, bike, jog, push strollers with their precious babies, walk dogs, and accompany their youngsters as they try out new training wheels. Sometimes bike-riding events with hundreds of riders take place here. Below the guardrail between Lakeshore Drive and the east end of the lake, families fish, float, or walk a path by the lake where the vehicle came to rest in the water on Dec. 2, having been struck in Cowlitz County and landing in Clark County. This is a well-used area. Will WSDOT wait until a vehicle comes off I-5 and kills or injures someone who is driving, walking, or playing in this area? Someone who is pushing their baby’s stroller or walking their dog on the dedicated Horseshoe Lake Trail? A father teaching his young child to fish?

If the Dec. 2 fatality tells the state anything, please let it be that it must no longer leave Woodlanders in this vulnerable position. Access to I-5 southbound at onramp 21 needs to be improved. Trim or, better yet, remove trees that block visibility from the onramp? Raise the ramp for better visibility? Create a longer onramp? Residents and officials have discussed the problems with this onramp for a long time. It’s past time to do something. And more accidents and expensive lawsuits are sure to happen if the state does not find a way to stop I-5 drivers from ending up on Lakeshore Drive or in Horseshoe Lake. Why can’t the state install a concrete barrier wall along I-5 at Woodland? Just south of the Woodland southbound exit 21 from I-5, there are guardrails, yet there are still incidences of I-5 drivers breaking through the fence and onto Woodland’s Pacific Avenue. At I-5 paralleling Lakeshore, however, there are not even guardrails. Could the state post a slower speed limit through this area? Add lighted signs to alert drivers of the danger? Please take appropriate action before more Woodlanders and others innocently going about their day are injured or killed in this area. It must be made safer for both those on I-5 and those on Lakeshore Drive.

Patricia Nelson, Woodland