State drops unpopular Egan plan

DOT ponders third bridge lane

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Budget writers in the state Senate have approved $9 million to ease congestion at the 10th Street and Egan Drive intersection, but the money likely won't go toward a controversial plan recently pushed by state engineers.

State road planners have backed off their proposal to ease traffic near the Douglas Bridge by routing outbound cars onto Glacier Avenue and turning a portion of Egan Drive into a one-way highway.

The idea proved so unpopular the Alaska Department of Transportation put the so-called couplet alternative on a back burner and is leaning toward another option to convert the bridge to three lanes by eliminating the bike paths.

Under that scenario, the middle lane would be reserved in the morning for cars driving from Douglas Island, and in the evening, for cars driving toward Douglas Island. Bicyclists could share the 6-foot-wide sidewalk with pedestrians or ride in the car lanes, said DOT's Chris Morrow.

"We think the reversible lane solution is the best traffic solution given that the couplet isn't going to fly with the community," said Morrow, adding the agency is still studying the three-lane option.

The $9 million in the Senate public works budget is enough to fund the reversible lane alternative, Morrow said. The money also would cover the cost of other improvements, including a traffic light or roundabout on the Douglas side of the bridge. The full Senate was scheduled to vote on the budget today. It also needs approval by the House.

The state has cautioned that traffic at the intersection is projected to increase 40 percent by 2022 and cause major gridlock during peak hours. If the state green-lights the project, crews could break ground by summer 2003. However, the agency still is sifting through technical problems with the reversible-lane option and questioning whether the city would support it. For one thing, state planners are not sure the public would accept walkers and bikers sharing the narrow sidewalk.

"Having bikes and (pedestrians) on a 6-foot pathway is not standard," Morrow said. "We need more coordination with the local government to see whether the idea of putting bikes and peds together on the pathway is going to be palatable for the community."

Also, it's unclear how a third lane would mesh with a proposed roundabout on the Douglas side of the bridge. All vehicles entering the roundabout would turn right and yield to cars and trucks already on the circle-shaped intersection. The concept would work with two lanes, but the state is unsure how to tie in a third, reversible lane, Morrow said.

"It's not something we think can't be done. We just haven't yet got the designs we're comfortable with that would make that work," Morrow said.

Mayor Sally Smith is concerned a reversible lane might prove confusing to drivers and she expressed personal regret at the idea of losing the bike lanes. However, she did not rule out the option.

Some Juneau Assembly members, including Smith, criticized the couplet alternative, saying it would hit the Glacier Avenue neighborhood known as Casey Shattuck too hard. The plan would have routed all outbound cars onto Glacier Avenue and made it a one-way street, raising concerns increased traffic would imperil pedestrians, including students from nearby schools.

"The fact they've backed off on the other one probably brings us all some relief," said Smith. "It certainly wasn't what the neighborhood wanted nor many of the citizens in the area."

Morrow said he tentatively plans to announce a preferred solution to the Juneau Planning Commission in June.

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