Point Lena residents, hoping to preserve the rural character of their neighborhood, want to keep Point Lena Loop Road free of traffic from two planned fisheries research centers. But city officials say that would be unsafe and expensive to accomplish.
"We walk the loop," longtime resident JoAnn Schoeppe said in an interview after a public meeting Tuesday at Chapel by the Lake. "It truly is a neighborhood where people walk it in the summer, and kids ride their bikes, and people walking their dogs say hello."
The city and consultants are analyzing the engineering and environmental effects of three possible roads through the interior of Point Lena, which is now served by a looped residential road that runs mostly near the coast. They're also considering repaving the south part of the loop road and adding sidewalks and lighting to make it safer if they don't build a new road.
But officials are balking at residents' wishes to either dead-end Point Lena Loop Road near the research centers, or build a bridge so an interior road would pass over the loop road.
Residents are concerned the neighborhood will be harmed by traffic to a planned National Marine Fisheries Service research center and a University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries building. When both facilities are first built, they could hold nearly 185 workers, students and faculty, and triple Point Lena's traffic. When the centers are built to capacity, the traffic could be more than five times what it is now, city officials said.
Just building an interior route would still give the centers traffic access to Point Lena Loop Road and it would open more city land for subdivisions, both of which would change the neighborhood's flavor, Schoeppe said.
"It's a win-win situation for everybody but our neighborhood," she told city officials Tuesday.
The three proposed interior routes would cost $2.5 million to $3.4 million without an overpass, said consulting engineer Mal Menzies of R&M Engineering. An overpass would put all of those options beyond the current $2.7 million budget, he said.
Having a single access to the fisheries centers also would be unsafe, said Rorie Watt of the city Engineering Department.
Emergency vehicles wouldn't be able to respond to problems at the centers if the interior road was closed because of snow, ice or a traffic accident, city officials said. Even if the interior road was open, its steep grades would slow down emergency vehicles.
Dead-ending the loop road would complicate school bus schedules and cause service vehicles to backtrack, thus doubling their traffic on any section of the loop road, they said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service also opposes having a single access. John Gorman of the fisheries service, in an e-mail to city officials, said an overpass would take money away from making the access road safer by reducing its grades, which are up to 10 percent in places. He also objected to using land on the research center's site for an overpass.
The Lena Extended Neighborhood Association, which had called for a single access in 1997, plans to meet at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at Chapel by the Lake's Smith Hall to discuss the issue.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.