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Changes coming to Egan Drive

DOT eyes narrowed Egan Traffic squeezed to one lane at Main Street

Posted: April 4, 2013 - 10:40pm  |  Updated: April 5, 2013 - 12:10am

Tourist industry traffic may have to squeeze through downtown on a narrowed Egan Drive if Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities follows through with draft construction plans.

The Egan Drive Resurfacing 10th Street to Main Street project is a combination of two separate projects — the work from Whittier Street to Main Street is paid for by cruise ship tax money. The entire project is expected to extend pavement life, fix potholes and ruts and increase bike and pedestrian capabilities along Egan Drive.

DOT will also shore-up and stop deterioration of a retaining wall that runs under Merchant’s Warf.

Major features of the draft project include wider bike and pedestrian paths inbound and outbound along Egan and the loss of a vehicular lane between Whittier Street and Main Street.

Existing sidewalks could grow from the current 8-feet to 11-feet-wide inbound to Whittier Street. At that point a six-foot bike lane will take up the space that a second vehicular lane currently occupies.

Upon pulling out of the Whittier Street traffic light, cars in the right hand land will merge to the left. Speed limits would remain unchanged.

“This is just starting,” Chuck Tripp, DOT&PF project manager said at a public meeting Thursday afternoon, “It is not set in stone. Part of the goal of this public meeting is to get people’s feedback.”

Resurfacing and construction work is projected to begin in 2014.

Tripp said DOT has used cruise ship schedules to time recent construction in Skagway during the least disruptive time. DOT plans is to do the same in Juneau, he said.

The narrowed design allows DOT to forgo costly and time-consuming land acquisitions for right-of-ways necessary to keep current vehicular access while at the same time adding pedestrian and bike access. It also allows DOT to shoehorn an additional pedestrian crossing between Whittier Street and Main Street without the need for an additional stop light.

Local tour operators in attendance voiced concern over the bottleneck that could arise at Egan Drive and Main Street as tourist buses and local traffic vie for the single outgoing lane. However, it was also agreed that better use of the crossing guard service at the cruise docks could ease traffic considerably. One comment suggested the DOT was solving the wrong problem with its focus on bike and pedestrian traffic over car, truck and bus traffic.

The City and Borough of Juneau’s plans for the Willoughby and downtown areas put an emphasis on non-vehicular traffic. James Marcus, a three-year downtown resident, supports more pedestrian access to the waterfront. He said he often commutes on foot.

"Making Willoughby more connected benefits Juneau as a whole," Marcus said. "The Willoughby District Plan is addressing that need ... serving an under served need in the community."

Tripp said DOT still has questions concerning the traffic merge at Whittier.

“Can we really do that and if we can’t what are our alternatives?” Tripp said.

The engineers also wonder if cars will back up as they wait to turn left onto Willoughby, Tripp said.

Plans are further complicated by the need to design for both visitor and local traffic.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is accepting public comments on the project through April 29. Submit comments to DOT Environmental Analyst Hilary Lindh by calling 465-6564 or email Hilary.lindh@alaska.gov.

Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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