My turn: City needs to slow down on second crossing

Educating the public, talking with stakeholders essential before bridge moves forward

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2007

My property sits under the second crossing alternative drawn from Sunny Point to Hendrickson Creek in the map sent to me recently by the city of Juneau. Beneath and near this proposed North Douglas terminus, there are two salmon streams, prime wetlands and a blind "S" curve on North Douglas Highway where it connects with my driveway.

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Termini on North Douglas haven't received the same attention as those on Egan Drive. Further, trying to decipher why our neighborhood concerns have been eliminated, how crossing lines have been drawn and deleted, and how to make our voices count, has been frustrating. Beneath this frustration lie questions leading to educational results. A "preferred community alternative," after all, relies on an educated community.

Although some people assert that this crossing has been studied for years, the parameters have drastically changed since 1984. Today, we must assimilate issues such as the demand for low-income housing, an expanded airport runway and transportation challenges on both the Douglas and Brotherhood Bridges. A West Douglas conceptual plan, headed to the Juneau Assembly as we speak, states that this new growth area will contain 4,500 people, more than tripling the present North Douglas population. We must have all the applicable information before the earlier alternatives are eliminated.

Our North Douglas stakeholder conversation with Sheinberg Associates in December was inconclusive. We wanted answers to questions regarding values such as a transparent process, transportation and pedestrian safety, and quality of life, to be incorporated into decision making. Consultants, by their own admittance, were working within too short of a time frame to answer our questions and still be able to create the crossing alternatives.

I still have unanswered questions. They include:

1. Why isn't the bench road included in this crossing study, as it was dictated by the 2005 Assembly resolution and the comprehensive plan? Our current road operates at a dangerous capacity and cannot take added industrial, commercial and other development use. With families, children, school buses, tourism, boaters, runners, bikers, skiers, etc., we are already seeing accidents and a fatality would not be a surprise. Completion of a North Douglas comprehensive plan first is the only responsible way to inform and achieve this project.

2. What will the footprint of this crossing road and major intersection look like on North Douglas? How wide is the road? How large is the intersection? Is it a roundabout? Are we talking 250 or 1,000 feet wide? How many of my neighbors' homes will be hit or nearly missed?

3. We're told that when West Douglas is done we'll see 10,000 vehicles a day. What is the traffic projection and pattern if the crossing is built tomorrow? I want to see a simulation of traffic flow patterns before I prefer an alternative.

4. How will we mitigate the noise, lights, environmental and other quality of life impacts in this highway, the intersection and the adjacent areas?

5. How many homes will be impacted and displaced with the intersection and road? How will we take care of that are displaced, and those who will live adjacent to the crossing? How do we include these landowners in the process?

6. What is the problem the second channel crossing is solving? If we're driven predominantly by West Douglas development, why isn't the crossing closer to this area, where the new major population center is going to be?

7. What is the value of my house and my neighbor's worth today, with a city of Juneau planner's line drawn top it? How will I be compensated for my reduced quality of life and loss of my property value?

It is reasonable and essential to discuss these questions publicly now, for myself, my neighbors and anyone who enjoys North Douglas now, not at the end of the process.

The project is not a state priority. We have time to slow down, educate our community, and talk further with stakeholders. As we work to enhance Juneau, economics alone, or "the shortest distance between two points" leaves us with a plan that is shortsighted, uninformed and irresponsible.

• Merry Ellefson is a Douglas resident.

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