Coogan Construction has begun pouring concrete on the downtown transportation center being built by the city at the corner of Egan Drive and Main Street.
An informal "ceremonial troweling" took place Thursday morning to mark the start of construction, which comes on the heels of the deconstruction of Telephone Hill.
Neighbors and downtown workers endured noise and dust this spring while half of the hill made mostly of solid rock was blasted and hauled away from the site to make room for the four-story parking garage.
At least a dozen construction workers poured and spread cement Thursday morning in a 25-foot-deep hole next to Main Street as city officials and others with the project watched in hard hats.
City Engineering Director Rorie Watt said that with an aggressive construction schedule, the garage frame could be up by winter and interior finishes on the associated transit center completed during the cold months.
With good weather, the $11.5 million project could be complete by next summer, Watt said.
Residents initially had been concerned with construction noise, but dust from blasting 22,000 cubic yards of material out of Telephone Hill turned out to be a bigger issue.
Nearby residents this spring called the dust a major nuisance, and some worried it posed a health risk. They raised the specter of silicosis, a respiratory problem caused by breathing silica dust.
The city responded by taking samples and testing for the mineral.
Lab results released last month indicate that, based on the small percentage of breathable dust and the absence of the most harmful kind of silica, it is not likely the dust presented substantial harm to neighbors.
Telephone Hill resident Marta Lastufka had nose bleeds two or three times a day during blasting, and her husband had headaches.
Lastufka said Thursday that she and her family are now doing fine, and Watt said Wednesday the city has received no more complaints about dust.
The downtown transportation project has been a controversial one for at least a decade.
A group of vocal opponents criticized it for its size, price and design, and said more downtown parking wasn't needed since the Marine Park garage a few blocks away sits half empty much of the time.
Opponents also panned the garage as a monument to America's consumption of fossil fuels, calling for the city to improve public transportation instead of feeding a societal addiction to cars.
An artist who had been invited to submit concepts for the project wrote last year that designs "struck me, like a tumbling concrete pillar, that this garage was literally a four-story, straight-up-and-straight-down, right-angled, concrete structure designed expressly to park and to hide empty cars from the public."
The writer, Alan R. Munro, who made his comments in a letter to the editor, went on to say, "Oh, but what a dear, dear price we all do pay to have our conveniences and profits."
Proponents of the project included the Downtown Business Association and its 300 members, many of whom said downtown workers use prime spaces all day, leaving no spots for their potential customers.
"Juneau people love to park their cars and get right out and go to the stores," said association President Ann House. "With limited parking on the street right now, they have to drive around two to three times and if they can't find a space, they go home."
Several studies dating back a decade showed a need for more parking in downtown.
The garage was designed so that more floors could be added on top, and the site is targeted for future state use as a Legislative hall or Capitol complex.
House called the project "a building of a foundation for Juneau."
In addition to the garage, the project includes improved outdoor parking, a pocket park atop Telephone Hill, a bus staging area and a 2,000-square-foot transit center that will house public restrooms, lockers and break room for transit employees, a police substation, space for vendors and an enclosed waiting area.
A combination of federal stimulus money, local sales taxes approved by voters in 2005, marine passenger fees collected from the cruise industry and state transportation grants will pay for the project.
Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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