Port of Kalama Spencer Creek Business Center – Phase 1

Project Completed: February 2021

Port of Kalama

Located in southwest Washington, the Port of Kalama (Port) offers numerous employment opportunities to fuel the local community’s economic growth and business development. The development of Spencer Creek Business Center—a 70-acre mixed-use site—had been a long-time goal of the Port and the City of Kalama (City) due to the area’s prime location next to the Columbia River and railway lines. 

The Port’s vision began in 2013 when the Spencer Creek site was annexed into the City and stakeholders approved the Developer’s Agreement to guide development. In 2015, the Port submitted a master plan application to begin the land use entitlement process and enlisted AKS to provide on-site arborist services to assess Oregon white oak stands.  

Upon approval of the master plan application and issuance of conditions, the Port brought AKS on board again to design and oversee the construction of the first phase of the Spencer Creek infrastructure improvements. These planned improvements included building a roundabout, widening over 1 mile of existing roadway, creating pedestrian linkages to adjacent facilities, extending public utilities, and implementing stormwater treatment and floodwater evacuation systems. 

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AKS designed and oversaw the construction of the initial phase of Spencer Creek’s infrastructure. These improvements laid the groundwork for future design phases and development opportunities, and AKS is currently engaged in the design of multiple phases of on-site development.

For over five years, our engineers, construction managers, surveyors, arborists, landscape architects, and project managers worked alongside the Port, the City, Cowlitz County, the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), public and private utility providers, contractors, consultants, citizens, and community leaders to see Phase 1 improvements through from design to construction and completion. Our team provided value engineering, collaboratively solved site condition issues, and kept the Port apprised of progress throughout the entire project.

A street with a crosswalk and pedestrian island and street signs at the Port of Kalama


Our team provided landscape design for areas along the improved roadways, within the roundabout and stormwater facilities, and at the site’s future entry plaza at the northeast quadrant of the Old Highway 99 and Kalama River Road intersection.  

During the early stages of Spencer Creek’s development, the Port created a plan to preserve and protect the area’s natural landscape. This plan involved utilizing native trees and plants, implementing an irrigation system that required minimal maintenance, and adjusting watering volume based on the region’s patterns. Our team was responsible for integrating existing landscape features, such as the Oregon white oak trees, stormwater systems, and nearby natural areas, into the landscape features. Since Spencer Creek is considered the gateway to the Kalama River Valley, it was also crucial for the design to aesthetically reflect Kalama’s rich past and bright future. Our landscape architects carefully selected native plantings, water elements, and other appealing features that would offer a warm welcome to visitors and a vibrant backdrop for the future business center’s points. 

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Our team also collaborated with Port management and maintenance crews to identify native species that would thrive with minimal upkeep, eliminating extensive pruning and watering. The resulting irrigation system has several zones that can be separated based on the situation or maintenance needs. It also has flow meters that adjust watering amounts and schedules based on rain patterns. Localized drip systems were placed around landscape features to conserve water (compared to traditional sprinklers) to target water directly onto plant roots.


Our civil engineering team collaborated with the Port and other team members to create the layout for site transportation and development. During the demolition of Old Highway 99, our civil engineers recognized underground conflicts in communication lines that had not been mitigated. We avoided relocating thousands of feet of communication lines by designing a specialized bioretention facility with curb reinforcement. However, another series of communication lines conflicted with the floodwater evacuation system, leaving no room for the excess stormwater to run off. With some creative thinking, our team was able to redesign the piping system to protect the existing lines while also allowing the stormwater to flow through the system and into the nearby wetland.  

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Transportation Improvements

The transportation improvements plan involved replacing and widening 5,400 feet of Old Highway 99 and Kalama River Road. Improvements included the addition of turn lanes, traffic-calming features, public utilities, landscaped medians, and stormwater facilities for low-impact development.

Because pedestrian circulation sidewalks and paths connected Spencer Creek to nearby recreational facilities, incorporating pedestrian safety features into the design was critical. Our engineers incorporated pedestrian refuge islands, enhanced flashing crossing signals, 16 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramps, and 1.3 miles of ADA-compliant, 8-foot-wide detached sidewalks that parallel the roadways. They also designed sidewalks to be separate from the road through landscaping and stormwater management features that provide a naturalistic appearance. Stormwater is managed through native groundcover plantings, trees, and shrubs that mimic the banks of a stream and transition to streambed-like meanders of rock with boulders. Stormwater runoff filters through this passive system and infiltrates the streambed while providing a buffer zone from traffic for pedestrians.


After a thorough feasibility analysis, our team confidently recommended the inclusion of a roundabout in the Phase 1 design, despite one not being part of the original application to the City. The analysis began by delineating the approximate location of the planned intersection, carefully considering critical area impacts and right-of-way dedication, as well as pedestrian street access and vehicle usage. The process required close coordination with the Port's traffic engineer, the City, and the Port to account for proposed impacts on vehicle flows, public safety, and pedestrian access, as well as analysis of existing and projected traffic volumes, and assessment and integration of a potential realignment on Meeker Drive.

Our engineers considered several factors when developing the site layout and design, including the Port's preferences, input from stakeholders, and site constraints. After several iterations, the team arrived at a best-fit scenario that avoided critical area impacts, accommodated existing and future traffic flows, allowed heavy truck passage, avoided the need for excessive cut and fill, and minimized encroachment on valuable land.

The roundabout design accommodated typical American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) WB 67-foot trucks with a 73.5-foot total length. During construction, 90-foot vehicles successfully used the drivable truck apron during testing. The City approved the design based on guidance from the FHWA and WSDOT, and it met the City's development guidelines and public works standards. However, during construction, a local trucking company remarked that longer trucks required access through the intersection to support industries further up the Kalama River Valley.


Our surveyors performed site assessments to identify discrepancies between prior survey data and the existing conditions. They performed additional field surveying to capture all current information at the site prior to design efforts. AKS also provided all survey staking during construction and worked with other stakeholders to develop as-built maps and support right-of-way dedication.


Our arborist and forest engineering team worked closely with the Port to maintain its native species of trees, plants, and wetlands. Our arborists also supported our surveying crews to collect topographic surveys, and that data was then used to evaluate the native Oregon white oak species to ensure their health would be preserved and protected.


Traffic Control Challenges 

This project presented several traffic challenges and potential safety issues due to Spencer Creek’s unique geography, sensitive environment, and position as a transportation corridor needing a significant overhaul. During permitting, our construction managers and transportation engineers collaborated with the City to create a traffic-control plan. The plan served as a guide for the contractor-supplied traffic-control plan specific to the site. The goal of this plan was multifaceted and prioritized the protection of construction workers and the public. During construction, we employed specialized flaggers and traffic-calming measures to ensure that traffic flow through the site remained safe. No incidents were reported during the two-year construction period. 

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Before project approval, our construction team also worked with the City and the Port to set temporary speed limits to protect drivers, pedestrians, and construction crews. We recommended that the final speed limits on Kalama River Road and Old Highway 99 be lowered to 25 miles per hour, as this would slow traffic down in anticipation of increased public use of the infrastructure and the future business center. The City council tabled the recommended speed until the start of business park construction, so our team designed custom lane tapers and striping to provide safe passage during the interim condition and once speed limits are lowered in the future.

Utility Coordination

Due to the number of utilities within the project's bounds, close coordination with utility providers was necessary. The contractor, along with the Port, the consultant team, and the City, carefully planned the order of construction activities. Deliberate sequencing of construction activities, such as relocating major transmission lines, adding casings to live gas lines, and rerouting communication lines, was orchestrated by the contractor and involved the Port, the consultant team, various utility districts, private utility owners, and the City. The sequencing was critical in minimizing the risk of damage to utilities and construction equipment, as well as keeping workers and the public safe.

Given the future build-out plans for the site, special care was also taken to ensure fire service lines were properly looped throughout the site. AKS worked closely with the local fire marshal to design unique fire hydrant mounting pads that are safely accessible by crews during an emergency.