New plan to end through traffic, develop traditional pedestrian core
Students arriving at the University of Alaska Southeast today will be able to drive clear through campus, from the front entrance on Glacier Highway to the back door on Mendenhall Loop Road.
The Juneau school’s long-term plans call for ending that. UAS wants to close off Auke Lake Way, the road through campus, just past the Chapel by the Lake.
Access to parking would be through the school’s new front door off Mendenhall Loop Road.
Besides the traffic change, the biggest impact to campus would be to give it a pedestrian-dominated area in the middle.
“There hasn’t really been a sense of a center of campus,” said University Chancellor John Pugh. “The road is an impediment to that.”
The UAS plan is modeled after some classic university communities, which Pugh said reminds him of the University of Oregon, the University of Washington, or Alaska’s own University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“There’re all the same with roads outside, but pretty limited traffic inside,” Pugh said.
Facilities Services Director Keith Gerken said the change will significantly decrease traffic accessing campus directly from Glacier Highway, at an intersection with poor visibility that state highway officials have long had concerns about.
Moving more traffic through what’s now the school’s back entrance at Mendenhall Loop Road means that intersection needs improvements as well. This summer it was widened for at new turn lane, and Gerken said sidewalk improvements are also needed.
Among those watching the process closely are those at the Chapel by the Lake, which has an agreement with the university to use its parking lots for overflow parking, and has significant summer bus traffic that goes through the university, said church administrator Harvey Knuth.
“In the long run it could end up positive, how things are going to work in the short term we don’t know,” he said.
The big buses now come in through Mendenhall Loop Road, not directly off Glacier Highway, he said, because of how narrow and winding Auke Lake Way is just off Glacier Highway.
While some issues remain to be worked out, Knuth said the university has been good to work with and has been keeping the church informed of its plans.
“We’re optimistic everything is going to be worked out to the satisfaction of all parties,” Knuth said.
In the end, Knuth said, “it’s probably not going to have that much of an impact” on church activities.”
A contract was just let for construction of the new turnaround in front of the Hendrickson and Soboleff buildings, but the road won’t be closed off until much later, Gerken said.
The university is also looking at new signage for the campus’ new main entrance, he said.
The plan has had conceptual approval by the University of Alaska Board of Regents, but completion timing depends on funding approval, Gerken said.
The estimated cost is $4.3 million, Gerken said.
One impetus for the change came when former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton visited campus and drove past Hendrickson, Sobeloff and the row of other buildings along Auke Lake Way.
“Boy, it looks like a strip mall,” Pugh remembers him saying.
The new configuration will remove most, but not all of the traffic.
The road will be closed off with a gate, meaning the occasional delivery or other vehicle will be able to use what will be a single lane
“We’ll be changing from a road with a skinny sidewalk to a wide sidewalk in an area that’s principally pedestrian,” Gerken said.
“There’ll be some traffic, but there won’t be a thoroughfare,” Pugh said.
The campus could still be reached directly from Glacier Highway by Auke Lake Way on the south, but only for drop-off or delivery vehicles. The big parking areas will only be reachable from the new main entrance after the project is done.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org.