Snowmachines causing a hazard

My turn

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2000

University of Alaska Southeast housing residents are becoming more frightened about driving on University Drive every winter weekend due to increased snowmachine activity in the area. Somebody needs to do something about the situation, whether it is the police, the Department of Transportation, or even the Snowmachiners' Club, before a fatal accident happens. University Drive is a winding road on a hill that connects Back Loop Road with university housing. The most dangerous part of this road is the parking lot for Spaulding Meadows trail. Here, the narrow two-lane road turns about 90 degrees and is on a noticeable incline. On occasion, I have seen cars having to make a three-point turn in the road because they could not make it all the way up to housing. Some students who do not have four-wheel drive even have to leave their vehicles parked on campus overnight. This means that most cars need a running start just to get up University Drive, and the blind turn is white-knuckled terror as drivers hope that there won't be a car or snowmachine coming down the road in the wrong lane.

The Spaulding Meadows parking lot accommodates about a dozen vehicles, but many more show up on a wintry weekend for snowmachine activities. By 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the Spaulding Meadows parking lot will be full with trucks and trailers used for hauling snowmachines. After that, snowmachiners park their trucks along the side of University Drive right at the blind corner in front of many no-parking signs. This act turns the precarious University Drive from a two-lane road to a one-and-a-half-lane road.

I have been living at housing for four years, and every winter I have noticed the popularity of snowmachine activities on University Drive increase nearly exponentially. Last winter was crazy. Up to ten trucks with trailers would be parked along the road in front of the no-parking signs. There were even times when the trucks would park on both sides of the road allowing a narrow road between them for through traffic.

Unfortunately an accident happened last winter between a housing resident and a snowmachiner. The resident's vehicle collided with a moving snowmachine. I do not know what damage was done to either vehicle, but neither parties were injured. The resident did not report the incident because she was in the foreign exchange program and was frightened how it would affect her insurance or student visa. And the snowmachiner was riding on the road at the time, which is illegal so he did not want to report the incident. Had the laws been enforced, or more adequate parking existed, this accident never would have happened.

Reports from housing residents to the police went in vain as the police constantly said they would send somebody out to ticket illegally parked vehicles. If the police ever did, it did not deter the same people from parking the same trucks along the road the following weekend. Last week at the DMV, I saw a posted reminder to register snowmachines. The reminder stated that funds would be put into developing more facilities supporting the popular sport. The best way to use this money would be to expand the Spaulding Meadows parking lot so there would not be trucks parked illegally along University Drive. Those trucks turn a dangerous winter road into a possibly fatal one.

I urge snowmachiners to follow the laws of no parking signs and not stick your trucks along the side of University Drive. I also urge the police to try and drive up to university housing following the 20mph speed limit on a snow-covered weekend and see how safe the short trip is. Let your superiors know if you felt calm, or let them know if your pulse raised a little while going around the corner, or losing uphill momentum. Residents' pulses always increase while going around this corner. And as for the foreign exchange student, she refuses to drive on snow and ice, a phobia that a road in Juneau may be given credit.

Mike Heiman is a student at the University of Alaska Southeast, a UAS housing resident and Community Advisor.

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