Juneau's transportation future in the breach

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2001

Tomorrow evening our Assembly will consider the final details of an extremely important document, the Area Wide Transportation Plan. The decisions made at this meeting will define the framework for Juneau's transportation projects for the next 20 years and, in a larger sense, greatly impact Juneau's economy and quality of life.

As stated in the document: "the plan... includes recommendations with respect to corridor preservation, transportation demand management, Egan Drive improvements, the Second Crossing, and land use zoning and development requirements."

Area residents are well aware of the problem areas: congested roadways, limited access to Douglas Island, the shortage of parking downtown, unsafe intersections on Egan Drive, quality of life issues, etc. Proposed solutions to address transportation needs include increased walking and bicycling trails, car-pooling, telecommuting, flexible work schedules, and more mass transit via buses and light rail.

Juneau is blessed with an abundance of trails, and certainly people-powered modes of transportation need to be seriously considered in any long-range plan. The plan does a good job of identifying needed improvements to the trail system, such as joining disconnected trail segments and improving safety at crossings.

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) is currently the number one priority of the plan. One in four solutions mentioned in the plan would encourage people to travel by means other than the single occupant vehicle. Nationally TDM strategies have had the effect of reducing single person vehicle trips by 4 to 8 percent. Therefore, 25 percent of the AWTP is focused on attaining a 4 to 8 percent reduction in single-person vehicle trips.

The TDM solution may be better placed at a lower priority. Safer roadways deserve higher emphasis.

It is unlikely that the automobile going to fade in importance as the primary mode of transportation for busy working families shuttling between children's activities, meetings, jobs, shopping, the doctor, etc.

The consideration of a light rail transit system is mentioned in solution number 17 of the plan. Light rail is a noble alternative considered by communities of all sizes faced with similar transportation issues. Juneau would have problems justifying the enormous costs associated with building a light rail system.

A train cannot practically accommodate passengers who want to go Sandy Beach, Costco or many other points around the borough too far from the rail corridor for most people to walk.

A debate has churned in the Assembly over the wording of solution number 1.2, entitled "Egan Drive Grade Separated Interchanges." The sentence reading "design Egan Drive grade separated interchanges at yet unidentified locations," was the sticky wicket. Assembly member Frankie Pillifant opposed including the word "construct" as in "design and construct" in the description, meekly observing that the word is not all that important.

The wording of this critically important solution is key to our hopes of getting the necessary federal funds to fulfill this high-priority need. The wishy-washy phrasing used is not what our congressional delegates and the Alaska Department of Transportation want to hear when they go to bat for us to get the funds. The Assembly needs to send a loud, clear message that we intend to use the money for improvements that we will "construct" at specifically identified locations on Egan Drive.

Conspicuously low on the list of solutions is the proposed Second Crossing to Douglas Island. We urge the Assembly to consider the Second Crossing solution as one of the top priorities. If something happened to the only crossing we have to Douglas Island, what would we do? An added crossing would also alleviate traffic on the existing bridge and mitigate the congestion and danger at the 10th and Egan intersection.

Additionally, the northern route would eliminate the thousands of miles driven each year by residents of the Valley and Auke Bay making the long circuit to Eaglecrest, the boat ramp and to future recreational venues.

Since the city long ago determined that North Douglas was the best place for future growth it is logical that we begin getting serious about putting in the necessary infrastructure to facilitate growth.

Funding is readily available to begin the first step, the environmental impact study. The EIS will get the issue on the table and offer plenty of opportunity for public input and review long before the first dime is spent on construction.

It is important that residents take a serious interest in Monday night's meeting. This may be your last chance to offer your input. For your enlightenment, the text of the AWTP is easily accessible on the city's Web site at www.juneau.lib.ak.us/assembly/ main.htm. Those of you who have never attended an Assembly meeting may not want to miss this one. If you can't attend, talk to your Assembly representative and voice your feelings on the subject.

The Assembly has invested three years in the Area Wide Transportation Plan and it is time to make the decisions necesarry to complete it and move forward.

Don Smith


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