Juneau's Area Wide Transportation Plan would build a road from Juneau to L.A. It would cost $80 million. Cheap? Sure, it's federal dollars. Doesn't cost us a thing. Except the opportunity to build roads or bridges right here in Juneau.
The state proposes spending $80 million to build freeway interchanges and overpasses at five major intersections on Egan Drive. They say this would relieve rush-hour congestion and accidents and handle a 44 percent increase in downtown rush-hour traffic over the next 20 years, among other things.
Downtown Juneau cannot absorb 44 percent more cars. Suppose an Egan Freeway whisked drivers from the valley to downtown. It would just pile up downtown all the congestion stored at Egan intersections. Downtown gridlock! Total drive time might even increase.
It's time to create options and incentives for commuters to get to work other than in their car, alone. Programs commonplace elsewhere can solve the Egan problems for a fraction of $80 million. The Juneau Parking Study made a start. It recommended increased bus service, pay parking, park and ride, carpooling, and other measures to reduce parking demand. The flip side is these measures also would slash rush hour traffic.
Two downtown employers - the state and federal governments - are the biggest cause of rush-hour congestion. It is ironic that the state is proposing to spend $80 million of state and federal taxpayers' dollars to solve a problem that the state and federal governments could solve themselves at far less cost. Adjusting work hours and parking policies alone could solve the problem.
Changing work hours could make a huge dent in the problem. Four-day weeks reduce commutes 20 percent. Flex-time or staggered hours could eliminate rush hour.
Free parking is a big part of the problem. There is always a shortage of free goods. People helping themselves to free parking increases traffic congestion to the point that the Area Wide Plan states "at intersections, the total lane requirement along Egan Drive could be as high as 10 lanes." In a town of 30,000? L.A. is just over the horizon.
Employers need to either charge for parking, pay those who don't park, or get out of the parking business and let the market provide the parking that commuters are willing to pay for.
The playing field needs leveling between employees who drive to work and those who don't. The most effective way is pay parking. Parking fees reduce demand as much as 35 percent, according to the Juneau Parking Study.
If the state and federal government maintain free parking, they should pay those who give up their parking permit. Parking cash-out has reduced commutes 13 percent in California. It can be funded by leasing out freed-up parking - or selling off property used, and reducing space leased, for parking. The city may need to amend zoning requirements for parking spaces.
Transportation allowances for employees' actual transit or rideshare costs are similar. But, employees can choose on any given day to drive or use transit. Last year, many federal agencies began a "transit pass" program that pays employees up to $65 for their transit or van pool costs. This can cover the $30 cost of a CBJ Capital Transit monthly pass.
Reserved parking for rideshare vehicles at the most desirable locations the SOB garage and adjacent parking spaces or lots might help. With pay parking, free parking for rideshare vehicles can be a big carrot.
CBJ should take the lead in creating commuter choice programs and assisting employers with them. Little has been attempted. Much can be done. Comparable cities, such as Aspen, Colorado, have solved their traffic problems this way.
Tell your favorite Assembly member that spending $80 million on Egan needs to take a back seat to low-cost, common sense-driven solutions. There is little to lose and much to be gained.
And tell the city to use that $80 million for the many other projects in the plan. Read the plan online at http://www.juneau.lib.ak.us/cdd/awtp.htm and comment at http://www.kittelson.com/juneauawtp/comments.html. Tell them you want off of that L.A. freeway - and take the road less traveled.
Milt Barker is a member of the CBJ Transportation Steering Committee, which is responsible for preparing the Area Wide Transportation Plan. A public meeting to review the plan is scheudled at 7 p.m. May 10 at Centennial Hall. Call the CBJ Community Development Department, 586-5230, for more information.