Traffic plan draws critics

Assembly rejects state remedy for Egan Drive woes

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2001

A controversial state proposal to ease congestion on Egan Drive by diverting cars to Glacier Avenue didn't find any champions at City Hall Monday night.

Some Juneau Assembly members at a work session condemned the idea as terminally ill, crazy and just plain wrong during a nearly three-hour meeting with members of the Juneau Planning Commission and officials from the Alaska Department of Transportation. Mayor Sally Smith said the Assembly probably will ask the state to find another solution.

"There's no support in the community that I've heard for it, and we're feeling the same way here on the Assembly," Smith said after the meeting.

The state's preferred solution would divert outbound traffic from Egan to the section of Glacier Avenue by Gold Creek. Drivers would turn right on Glacier (which curves left to run parallel with Egan), turn left on 12th Street near Harri's Plumbing, then turn right on Egan. All lanes on Egan from 12th Street to Glacier would convert to one-way inbound. Essentially, outbound cars would loop around the busy 10th and Egan intersection, easing congestion there.

State officials said if they don't do something, morning and afternoon commuters will find gridlock at the intersection by 2022, and many drivers probably will divert to Glacier Avenue anyway to avoid traffic.

"It's going to be a heavily degraded condition," DOT's Chris Morrow told civic leaders, noting traffic at the intersection is expected to grow 40 percent in 20 years.

But Assembly members voiced a litany of concerns about the option. The state's preferred solution includes three new traffic lights on Glacier Avenue, and Assembly member Ken Koelsch is worried drivers would take nearby residential streets to avoid the lights, putting school children at risk.

"It's easier to go around the back way, and going around the back way funnels (cars) into the school system head-on," Koelsch said.

Morrow, of DOT, said that would probably happen anyway if the state did nothing and conditions at the intersection degraded into gridlock.

Assembly member Cathy Munoz opposed the option, saying it would harm the residential neighborhood (known as Casey Shattuck) north of Glacier Avenue. Some residents there have said they're worried the option would encourage drivers to speed through the area and imperil children.

"To bring all the northbound traffic and run it right through one of the historical neighborhoods of downtown is really wrong," Munoz said.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler challenged the state's assumptions, saying traffic at the intersection probably wouldn't grow 40 percent by 2022 if a second bridge was built linking Douglas Island to the mainland. The city has floated the idea of a second crossing on North Douglas Highway for years.

Morrow of DOT said a second bridge would help only if it was close to the existing bridge because drivers from Douglas headed to the valley would rather drive Egan than North Douglas Highway, a winding, 45-mile-per-hour road.

Some Assembly members said the city should encourage bus use and flexible hours for workers to reduce the number of drivers during peak hours. Assembly member Jim Powell said some federal agencies in Washington, D.C., pay employees $66 a month to use mass transit.

Others questioned the wisdom of having so many businesses, offices and high-density apartment buildings downtown. Assembly member Dale Anderson suggested the city encourage more development in the Mendenhall Valley and Lemon Creek area to spread people around.

"Maybe we need to move some of the downtown people out of downtown," Anderson said.

The preferred solution was one of four alternatives recommended by a consultant hired by the state. One of the alternatives would widen the bridge to three lanes, but Morrow said that option proved too expensive and that engineers questioned whether it could be done. However, the state could convert the bridge to three lanes without physically widening the structure by using existing bike lanes, he said. That would mean bikers would have to share the bridge sidewalk with pedestrians or "take their chances" in the car lanes, he said.

The mayor did not rule out that option, saying the bike lanes are narrow and unsafe anyway.

"I think the bikes and the pedestrians can share," Smith said after the meeting.

The state wants city approval before it advances the project, even though it doesn't need it, Morrow said. He emphasized the agency is still weighing whether the preferred solution hits some residents too hard. The Assembly expects to take up the issue again at its next regular meeting March 19.

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