The Juneau Planning Commission voted 4-4 Tuesday night to reject the state Department of Transportation's plans to make renovations to the Douglas Bridge and nearby intersections to help ease traffic congestion.
The commission's split decision sends a recommendation to the Juneau Assembly not to move forward with the project.
"With a vote to not recommend approval, the planning commission did not agree with our project," said DOT project planner Chris Morrow.
Morrow said he does not anticipate that DOT will return with another plan, noting that the agency has spent the last 10 years studying the problem of traffic congestion on and around the bridge area.
But the decision by the commission is not the final word on the project, because the Juneau Assembly is the governing body for the project.
The Assembly has until August 31 to reject the project. Otherwise, it will be approved automatically.
The project would widen the intersection of 10th Street and Egan Drive, add a reversible center lane to the Douglas Bridge and add a circular roadway on the Douglas side. The pedestrian walkway that runs adjacent to the bridge would be extended from six feet to seven-and-a- half feet.
The reversible center lane would run one way from Douglas Island to Juneau in the morning, when heavy traffic is headed toward the mainland. The lane would run in the opposite direction for the rest of the day, with overhead signal lights telling motorists when the lane is open.
Cycling advocates oppose reconfiguring the bridge to add the reversible lane to the bridge, because bike lanes on the shoulders of the bridge would have to be removed in order to make room for the reversible lane.
"It's going to provide a much greater chance of bicycle-pedestrian conflicts on the sidewalk, or it's going to greatly increase the number of bicycle-vehicle accidents," said Dave Ringle of the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club.
DOT was given approval by the Planning Commission in December to move forward with the project, but the Freewheelers appealed the decision because the plan did not comply with Juneau's Non-motorized Transportation Plan.
A review of the appeal found that the project was not in compliance with the Non-motorized Transportation Plan, because the proposed lanes would not be wide enough to accommodate cyclists. DOT proposed an 11 1/2-foot lane, a 10-foot center lane and a 12-foot lane on the west side of the bridge. The Non-motorized Transportation Plan requires shared-use lanes meant to accommodate cars and bicycles to be 14 feet wide.
An internal review by DOT found that three aspects of the plan did not meet its own standards under Preconstruction Manual guidelines set out by the state.
"We have a design requirement of a 10-foot width for a two-way path on a bridge structure," Morrow said.
Preconstruction Manual guidelines also require 14-foot shared use lanes and 11 feet for the center lane.
DOT came to the commission in search of waivers for its non-compliance but was rejected by the committee.
Advocates for leaving the bike lanes in place took turns Tuesday night explaining to the commission why they oppose the project.
"To me the most important part of this project is safety. It's the safety of the pedestrians, it's the safety of the cyclist and it's the safety of the drivers," said Juneau resident Joyce Levine.
She said the city should spend as much money as is needed to make the project safe, if they are going to do it at all.
"If it costs $10 million to do it right, then do it right," she said.
Frankie Pillifant, a former member of the Juneau Assembly, said Juneau's population has not grown at the rate the DOT has projected and added that the project might not be necessary.
"Projections are projections, and models are models - they're not real life," she said.
She also noted that although the Non-motorized Transportation Plan is not legally binding, the city spent a lot of time working on the recommendations, and the city should follow them carefully.
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