Residents: Plan for Riverside Drive short-sighted

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Under a plan for Riverside Drive, the city would improve a busy intersection with Mendenhall Mall Road, install a traffic light at Dimond Park, slow down motorists near houses at the northern end, and connect it to Back Loop Road.

But some neighborhood residents say the plan doesn't solve the real problem of how to draw traffic away from Riverside Drive.

"It's a highway, it's a freeway through here," said Larry Buzzell, who lives at the northern end of Riverside Drive.

The Juneau Planning Commission approved the plan last month without comment, as general guidance for future projects, after the city gathered comments for about two years.

"What we all felt, universally felt, was they just rubber-stamped what was there and didn't consider the comments we made," said Buzzell, one of several residents who attended the commission meeting.

But city Engineering Director John Stone said, "I think we laid out as much as we could what we heard from people. Sometimes you have competing interests and you try to balance between the competing interests."

Buzzell said residents will raise their concerns with the Juneau Assembly, which Stone said may consider adopting the plan in August.

The traffic study and plan, released late last year by the engineering firm CH2M Hill, said Riverside Drive is functioning well and is generally safe. But accidents have increased as the traffic has grown about 2.5 percent a year, the report said.

According to traffic consultants, Riverside Drive near Egan Drive sees 10,800 car trips a day, with the northern end of the road seeing 1,800. Between 1997 and 1999, there were 29 accidents at three major intersections on Riverside, the study said. Two resulted in serious injury.

Neighborhood residents have complained for years about speeders in the residential and school areas along the north part of the road. They have worried about safety near Riverbend Elementary School, and wondered about added congestion if the proposed high school and community center are built at Dimond Park.

The problem, residents say, is that Riverside Drive changes character from a major road near Egan Drive and Mendenhall Mall Road to a residential street at the northern end, where residents back their cars from driveways onto the road, and children walk to Mendenhall River Community School.

Because of the way the road curves near the school, "There's very little time to react to children in there," Buzzell said. "And many times we've heard the sound of locked-up brakes (from motorists) trying to avoid hitting a kid."

The study doesn't include costs. But the city has submitted to the state, for its list of work to be federally funded between fiscal 2004 and 2007, projects to improve much of Riverside Drive. The state's draft list isn't available yet, officials said.

"It does quite a bit (of the plan)," Stone said. "On here we can fix the lighting, some of the sight-distance issues, we can fix the pedestrian issues."

One project, for $3.7 million, would repave Riverside between Rotary Park and Egan Drive, add lighting to intersections, install pedestrian-activated crosswalk lights at Parkwood Drive, include left-turn lanes into Dimond Park, add a southbound lane between James Boulevard and Egan, and make many changes to the intersection with Mendenhall Mall Road/Vintage Boulevard to make it safer.

Another project, for about $3.5 million, would repave Riverside between Rotary Park and Taku Boulevard, build a single-lane traffic circle at the intersection with Stephen Richards Boulevard or add a traffic light, install sidewalks from Sharon Street to Taku Boulevard, and install pedestrian-activated crosswalk lights at Division Street.

The project also would narrow the road north of Taku Boulevard to encourage motorists to drive slower, and it would soften the sharp curve at Tournure Street and install lighting. Tournure Street also would be rebuilt.

But it's the long-term measures in the study that most concern residents.

The plan envisions linking Riverside to Back Loop Road, either by a bridge over the Mendenhall River near Melvin Park to River Road or a new road, or by pushing Riverside north. Motorists on Riverside now have to turn sharply onto two streets to reach Back Loop.

Buzzell said the bridge is a much better idea than pushing the road north, which past engineering studies have questioned, and he wonders why the plan includes both projects.

But Stone said, "The scope of this planning effort was not such to dictate specifically what we're going to do 15 years from now."

Buzzell also said the scope of the plan, which was limited to Riverside Drive itself, was too narrow. Engineers need to redesign Mendenhall Loop Road near its intersection with Egan Drive to end the bottleneck on the Loop Road, so fewer drivers will avoid it and use Riverside Drive, he said.

Stone said the study, which cost $67,000 and was paid for by a state grant, wasn't funded sufficiently to include those considerations.

Eric Fry can be reached at

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