The Juneau Assembly approved the city's Area Wide Transportation Plan on Wednesday after strengthening calls for a second crossing over Gastineau Channel, light rail and ways to reduce demand for driver-only car trips.
After nearly six hours of public testimony and debate over two nights this week, the Assembly unanimously adopted the document. The plan sets a framework for Juneau transportation projects during the next 20 years and offers recommendations about state, local and federal improvements.
Before passing the plan, Assembly members changed a reference to a second crossing over Gastineau Channel from a "long-term" to a "near-term" project once an environmental impact statement is finished.
They also changed a reference to North Douglas Highway resurfacing and widening to a near-term project. A priority calling for a bench road on Douglas Island was changed to medium-term project. The road, paralleling the existing highway, would serve through trips between the Douglas Bridge and North Douglas, according to the plan.
If a second crossing is built, the traffic on North Douglas Highway will need to be addressed, Assembly member Marc Wheeler said.
"There are serious safety concerns we need to address if we're going to do a second crossing," he said.
Assembly members also discussed wording that suggests the city implement policies to reduce driver-only trips by promoting buses, carpooling, bicycling, telecommuting and other solutions. Such policies would be presented as incentives under a change approved by the Assembly.
Assembly member Dale Anderson said that many of the plan's solutions would reduce the use of single-occupant vehicles and that has scared some of his constituents.
"This is a factor I've heard over and over. I'm totally opposed to a government mandate that restricts the use of the automobile," he said.
Assembly member Frankie Pillifant, who has advocated for such policies, said the aim isn't to ask people to give up their cars, but to offer choices.
"If you give more choices, you do a lot to relieve commuter misery," she said. "This is an opportunity for the community to look for other opportunities."
A motion offered by Jim Powell to study fixed-guideway systems, bus rapid transit, light rail and other mass transit options was approved by a 5-4 vote. Wheeler, Cathy Mu-oz, Pillifant, Powell and Mayor Sally Smith voted in favor of the amendment. Anderson, Don Etheridge, Ken Koelsch and Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon voted no.
Anderson said light rail is expensive, not cost-effective and out of context for a community Juneau's size. He said he wanted the issue put to rest.
"We've done a great deal to make transit accessible to those who need it. I don't want the city and borough to put another dime into studying (light rail)," he said.
But Powell said the city has never studied the issue.
"A couple of years ago, people didn't think 30-minute bus rides were appropriate. There has never been an analysis done for this. ... Our community is very unique," he said.
Pillifant, who served on the city's Transportation Steering Committee, pulled out a noisemaker to celebrate when the plan was adopted as the audience applauded. The Assembly had a good dialogue about the document, and the projects will receive individual review as they come forward, she said.
MacKinnon said the plan has something for everyone.
"It's not a perfect document. But it is like a comprehensive plan. ... It speaks for the next 20 years of transportation needs and desires," he said.
Transportation Steering Committee chairman Koelsch said he was pleased the plan asks the state to construct interchanges on Egan Drive to replace traffic lights. The city will start to implement the plan this week, he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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