The state Department of Transportation's preferred plan to reduce congestion and improve safety at the Sunny Point intersection comes in response to neighborhood concerns, according to DOT preliminary design and environmental chief Chris Morrow.
After a meeting with residents in March, the department reworked its designs, Morrow said. About 25 people attended a public meeting Thursday about the improvement plans.
The state's preferred solution would build a new road connecting Glacier Highway and Egan Drive, cutting through the west end of the Big Kmart parking lot. An undercrossing or tunnel would go under Egan Drive to connect Glacier Highway to the Sunny Point neighborhood. The undercrossing, which would have room for pedestrians and bicycles, would not connect directly with Egan, DOT preliminary engineering manager Pat Carroll said.
Sunny Point residents had objected to a different option that would construct a half-diamond interchange and re-align streets within the Sunny Point neighborhood. Resident Sally Rue said the state's new alternative addresses comments from neighbors and would be good for kids and bicyclists.
"You can throw a rock to Dzantik'i Heeni (Middle School), but it's hard for kids to get there," she said.
Still, there's no perfect solution, she said.
"It might be nice to look at the cumulative impacts of what they're going to do with other intersections," she said.
Wayne Hoyt, a Sunny Point resident, said the state's preferred solution would be good for pedestrians and wetlands. His small children would benefit from the bicycle improvements, he said.
"I think this alternative is perfect," he said. "I can walk to work. There will be one less car on the highway."
Eric Wilkerson, who lives on Engineer's Cutoff, said the Lemon Creek area is difficult to transit, especially with left-turns on Egan limited. He said he'd like to see the project move a little faster.
"What's the holdup? It's a tough deal with a lot of issues to address but you've got to do something," he said.
Paul Farnsworth, project manager for the Williams Express gas station near the current Egan Drive off ramp, said his company isn't wildly enthusiastic about losing the Sunny Point intersection, but understands what's driving the changes.
"We don't want to turn into a ghost town. We're willing to work with DOT," he said.
The state's six options are variations on a half-diamond or diamond interchange and range from $12 million to $19 million. The preferred solution would cost $19 million and would provide a possible connection to a second crossing over Gastineau Channel. It is the only option that would not include filling in a portion of the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, according to the department.
Since 1996, the intersection between Sunny Drive and Glacier Highway has been ranked in the top five intersections for car accidents in Southeast Alaska. Traffic has increased 30 percent on Egan Drive and 70 percent on Glacier Highway in the Lemon Creek Valley in the last 10 years, according to DOT.
The department closed left turns from Glacier Highway onto Egan in the area in the mid-1980s. If the intersection is left as is, further traffic restrictions are possible, Carroll said.
The department will begin an environmental analysis later this summer that would include further study of wetlands, neighborhoods, noise, fish streams and other issues. The document should be finished a year from now, with construction starting in 2004 or 2005, Morrow said. Construction could be complete in 2006, he said.
The department is accepting written comments on the proposals through July 16, and plans to schedule future public hearings as work continues. Additional information is available on the state Department of Transportation Web site at www.dot.state.ak.us.