The City and Borough of Juneau has just issued its draft Area Wide Transportation Plan (AWTP) for public review and comment. Egan Drive receives considerable attention in the AWTP for the obvious reason - it is the most heavily traveled, most important roadway in Juneau. The AWTP recognizes Egan Drive's important arterial role and makes significant recommendations regarding its future. As the agency responsible for Egan Drive we at DOT/PF are very interested in what the final plan will say as it will drive our decisions for years to come.
Egan Drive was originally designed and built as a "free flow" expressway. Since it opened in 1975 its traffic has nearly tripled, with average daily volumes now close to 24,000 today, the highest in Southeast. The AWTP projects that over the next 20 years, Juneau's population will grow 1 percent per year and traffic will increase 1.5 percent annually - a reasonable but conservative estimate given that the historical growth rates over the last 27 years have been 2.6 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively. By 2020 we will likely see more than 32,000 cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses each day on Egan Drive. As a free flow expressway Egan Drive could have easily handled that load but Egan is no longer free flow. In the 1980s, pressure for safe side street access forced DOT/PF to begin installing signals at Egan's major intersections. Free flow was lost and Egan's volume carrying capacity was sharply reduced. The AWTP predicts that by 2020 every major intersection between Gold Creek and Mendenhall River except Riverside Drive will function unacceptably, with frequent delays and accidents. Everyone who endured the long lines during last summer's paving operation on Egan Drive received a taste of what morning and evening commutes will become.
So what should we do? We see three alternatives: 1) change our travel behavior, 2) add more lanes, or 3) replace the signal intersections with grade-separated intersections, more commonly known as "interchanges."
Changing our travel behavior means joining a carpool, riding the bus, bicycling, relying more on new technologies like electronic communication or on old technologies like sturdy hiking boots; anything to remove space-wasting single-occupant vehicles from the roadway. Theoretically this would work if enough people switched, but is it realistic? Are you willing to change the way you travel? Studies show that aggressively promoting other transportation choices does give some relief to our nation's congested urban roadways but not to the magnitude needed to obviate further infrastructure development. A 4-8 percent reduction in vehicle trips is the national experience which, if relevant for Juneau, means that at best we can postpone our local congestion by several years.
Converting Egan Drive to a six-lane facility would maintain capacity for about 25 years. Lanes would preferably be added to the outside to preserve the median as a safety refuge and possibly a corridor for future transit; however, environmental concerns could force the use of the median. Filling to the outside would still be required at intersections where as many as 10 lanes would be needed to accommodate all movements. A significant safety shortcoming of this alternative is that with rising traffic comes an associated rise in accidents at the signalized intersections. Across the nation communities are realizing the incompatibility of high-speed roadways and signals and are avoiding that combination wherever possible.
The safest, least environmentally intrusive, and most cost-effective solution would be to build interchanges. Capacity would be maintained for 50 years, the median would be preserved, and both the number and severity of accidents would be dramatically reduced. To some people the word "interchange" conjures images of huge L.A.-style cloverleafs; however, Egan Drive's interchanges would be simple "diamond" shapes like those in Anchorage and Fairbanks. For example, see our conceptual drawings of the Sunny Point Intersection on DOT/PF's website (under "Project Information").
The draft AWTP proposes interchanges as the solution but that can change depending on what is heard from the public.
It is vitally important that you speak out on this issue. Check out the Plan at the CBJ's website under "Hot Topics" or visit any of the libraries. Comments are due May 14. The AWTP will decide Juneau's transportation future and you can and should participate in that decision.
Chris Morrow is the Preliminary Design and Environmental Group chief for Southeast Region Preconstruction at DOT/PF.