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City leaders contemplate transit plan updates

Posted: October 29, 2013 - 12:02am
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Joe Winders, right, Joe Johnson, center, and Maudie Fawcett wait for a bus at the Downtown Transit Center on Monday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Joe Winders, right, Joe Johnson, center, and Maudie Fawcett wait for a bus at the Downtown Transit Center on Monday.

The City and Borough of Juneau has tasked a consulting firm with coming up with an updated proposal for the city’s aging transit plan, as officials prepare for next year’s budget talks.

Paul Lutey and Geoff Slater of Nelson/Nygard Consulting Associates presented three scenarios to a special joint-meeting of the Assembly and Planning Commission Monday night. Two of the scenarios would not require increasing the transit budget while the third would, though it is not known by how much.

The consultants have been gathering public input, studying the current system and developing the three scenarios for about six months. They identified several weaknesses, including schedules being stretched too thin, the express route not reaching the downtown transportation center, overcrowding on some routes and too much service for some areas coupled with a lack of service for high-demand areas.

“We can do a lot and we can address a lot of those problems, but we can’t address them all unless we spend more money,” Slater told the joint-meeting attendees. “That means you’re faced with a lot of trade-offs.”

Juneau’s system is not bad now — in fact, in terms of ridership and productivity, it is on par with much larger cities such as Boston, Slater said.

Still, the current plan, developed in 1996, is beginning to show signs of age and an update is needed, he added.

“Every time you put in a new traffic light the busses get slower,” Slater said. “The schedules are starting to break down.”

Each of the three plans correct the scheduling problems beginning to surface now, and they all update the service frequency to the Back Loop and North Douglas to better match demand in both areas.

They also all move the main Mendenhall Valley transfer location from the Nugget Mall over to the Mendenhall Mall.

Particular consideration went to getting service to three high-demand areas that do not have transit service currently: Riverside Drive, the ferry terminal and the Lemon Creek industrial area near Costco.

All three plans include new service to the Riverside Drive and ferry terminal locations, but only the third option — the one that will cost more to implement — includes service to the Costco area.

“Serving Costco requires additional resources. There’s no other way to do it,” Lutey said.

That option is developed in scenario 3, but the increase of 10 to 15 percent is in operational hours, not operational cost.

“We know what the best for our community might be, and we want that, but we have to know what we can afford to pay for,” Mayor Merrill Sanford said.

The consultants will spend the next month or so gathering public opinion and developing a final draft proposal to present to the Assembly sometime in December that will include a cost estimate.

That plan will then be used as a reference when city leaders work to develop the budget next year, Sanford said.

Public input will be taken at two community meetings this week. The first will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Valley Library, and the second will be the same time Wednesday at the Downtown Library.

Input is also encouraged online at www.juneautransitplan.org, where the three plans are available under the “Downloads” tab.

The consultants were asked to focus on developing strategies that didn’t require additional resources so more expensive plan improvements — such as significantly increasing operational hours or buying more or bigger busses — were not included in the three scenarios presented Monday.

When the final draft is presented there will also be a “menu” of other potential improvements with associated cost estimates, Lutey said.

“It will be a while before we have an idea of what we can do,” Sanford said.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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