Today the land near the future home of a giant whale statue is a juxtaposition of past and present land uses, a jumble of modern functionality — an office building, hotels, a small vessel harbor and some architectural survivors of a bygone residential era.
Soon part of the area could be part of the Seawalk, a defined waterfront path the city hopes to eventually make continuous between downtown cruise docks and the small park being developed for the metal leviathan set to arrive here next year.
If pedestrian access issues are not settled, some fear the benefits of creating a new mixed-use neighborhood in the Willoughby District and stellar waterfront view and functional recreational area just down the road will be muted by lack of access between the Douglas Bridge and Willoughby Avenue across a 40 mph stretch of four-lane asphalt.
Some also fear the waterfront won’t be accessible to people who would live in the proposed new residential neighborhood, and tourists from the Seawalk won’t be able to easily access Willoughby District shops and other venues.
The state says the good news is that plans for a new crossing at Willoughby Avenue and Egan Drive will be unveiled April 4 at a meeting in Centennial Hall where public input will be sought on overall improvements to Egan Drive’s downtown corridor.
Not in the plans is creating a new, safe way for people to cross between Gold Creek and 10th Street. Many pedestrians on that stretch choose a dangerous path: jaywalking across the road and median along a stretch between Whittier and 10th Street where there is no crossing to the water.
“The ‘jumping the road’ thing is a tough one,” said Jason Woodrow, spokesman for Egan Drive’s caretaker, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The state has for years maintained that keeping traffic flowing through that specific area is a necessity. “To add another crossing slows down traffic,” Woodrow said.
“It’s a fine line between what the purpose is, to move traffic safely and protect pedestrians,” Woodrow said.
The previous Borough Assembly discussed trying to pry the last part of Egan Drive loose from state control.
But the state is moving in the opposite direction of ceding control, planning pedestrian and bike path improvements between Willoughby and Main Street to move the road’s look and functionality more in line with Juneau’s master plan. The whole road between Main and 10th streets will be repaved and sidewalks will be broadened.
Woodrow said the design is in an early phase and that drawings are preliminary. One new crossing at Willoughby is in the plans. Traffic would funnel down to one lane with defined turns to route traffic where it needs to go.
Along with many new Assembly members, Juneau has a new planning director who has already made it a priority to broaden the city’s contacts with DOT&PF.
Planning Director Hal Hart, who started in August, said the city and state are “working pretty good together” in pursuing “mutual objectives.”
Woodrow said state employees are regularly briefing city staffers on ongoing planning and feels there is a good relationship there.” DOT looks forward to making that relationship better than perhaps it has been perceived.”
From foundry to waterfront in one year
The whale statue by sculptor Skip Wallen is being worked on in a Lower 48 foundry. A place has been designated as its future home, but the details are still unfinished.
Right now the whale statue’s future park is a barren spot under The Douglas Bridge near a port building.
A boxy government building nicknamed the Plywood Palace is a neighbor to the south of the future park site, as is a collection of old homes, one of which is an office, the other seemingly out of place next to the Douglas Bridge entrance off Egan Drive.
City Director of Engineering Rorie Watt said everything is tentative now and the issue will go again before the Assembly’s Committee of the Whole on April 8.
The city must come up with a master plan for Seawalk and find money for it in the budget, and the Assembly must approve the plans for the project to advance.
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The Department of Transportation & Public Facilities will hold a meeting April 4 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. in the Hickel Room of Centennial Hall to take public comment on and discuss plans for improvements to the portion of Egan Drive between Main Street and 10th Street.