Assembly grapples with transit dilemmas

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Replacing stoplights on Egan Drive with interchanges and reducing demand for driver-only trips are at the top of the city's list of transportation priorities. They also rank high as areas of disagreement for Juneau Assembly members.

The Assembly got its first in-depth look at the city's draft Area Wide Transportation Plan at a work session Monday. The plan has been under development for three years and provides a framework for Juneau transportation projects over the next 20 years.

Much of the discussion focused on Egan Drive improvements and centered on a priority that would reduce demand for driver-only trips while improving alternative forms of transportation, such as carpooling, buses and bicycling. The plan calls for a series of interchanges on Egan Drive between 10th Street and Riverside Drive that might include elevated on and off-ramps, undercrossings or overpasses.

Assembly member Ken Koelsch, who headed the city's Transportation Steering Committee, suggested the Assembly add the word "construct" to language that calls for the design of Egan Drive interchanges. He said the city needs to be clear about its priorities, especially with Alaska's Congressional delegation in a position to fund transportation projects. Safety is a key concern, Koelsch said, and interchanges would make travel in Juneau less dangerous.

"I don't think construct is a bad word," he said. "We do need to send a message."

Assembly Member Frankie Pillifant said the proposal was premature, arguing there are other ways to improve safety. Installing rumble strips or speed bumps to slow traffic before an intersection are some options, she said. Managing demand for transportation should come first, she said.

"I'd rather see a more moderate approach," she said. "I think we have time."

Without five votes in favor, Koelsch's motion failed to win approval. Sally Smith, John MacKinnon, Dale Anderson and Koelsch supported the motion, while Pillifant and Cathy Mu-oz did not. Jim Powell, Marc Wheeler and Don Etheridge were not present.

Anderson said the transportation plan focuses too heavily on bikes and other forms of transportation that don't involve cars.

"If you put an automobile vote against a bicycle vote you'll get an answer on how to spend limited resources," he said. "We're representing 30,000 people in this community, not 500 or 1,000. The decisions we need to make are for those 30,000."

Anderson said he is concerned that many people he has talked to aren't aware of the city's transportation plan. Koelsch responded that the planning process has been comprehensive.

"As far as taking the show on the road, we did everything we could short of stopping cars on the highway," he said.

Mu-oz said the plan includes a number of references to smaller transportation projects that don't involve cars, but the largest projects in the proposal are automobile-focused.

Assembly members approved a motion to separate the state and local projects on the priority list. They also agreed to add a new priority to start work on an environmental impact statement needed for a second crossing over Gastineau Channel. City Manager Dave Palmer said refining the city's position on a bridge, causeway or other crossing, probably in the Juneau Airport area, would make it easier to reprogram federal funds for the project.

The Assembly is scheduled to consider the Area Wide Transportation Plan at its regular meeting Monday. Assembly members could adopt the document or make further changes at that time, MacKinnon said.

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