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Panel recommends Douglas Bridge changes

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003

A Juneau Assembly committee wants the full panel to approve a controversial project aimed at easing traffic congestion on and around the Douglas Bridge.

The project, proposed by the state Department of Transportation, would remove bicycle lanes on the bridge to make room for a reversible center lane for vehicles. The lane would run one way from Douglas to Juneau during the morning rush hour and in the opposite direction for the rest of the day.

The project also would widen the intersection of 10th Street and Egan Drive and add a traffic circle to route vehicles on the Douglas side of the bridge.

The Juneau Public Works and Facilities Committee voted 2-1 last week to send a resolution to the full Assembly at a work session sometime next month. Committee members Jeannie Johnson and Merrill Sanford voted yes on the recommendation and Marc Wheeler voted no.

The Public Works Committee decision came a little more than a week after the Juneau Planning Commission voted 4-4 on the project. The tie vote sent a recommendation to the Assembly to not go forward with the plan.

Bicycling advocates oppose the project because bike lanes on either side of the bridge would be removed to make room for the reversible middle lane.

The project was approved by the Planning Commission in December, but the decision was appealed by the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club on the grounds that it does not comply with the city's Non-motorized Transportation Plan.

That plan requires 14-foot-wide lanes for shared use by motor vehicles and cyclists. DOT's redesign of the structure would have created an 11 1/2-foot lane on the east side of the bridge, a 10-foot reversible center lane and a 12-foot lane on the west side.

The transportation plan, however, is not a legally binding document, but rather a set of recommendations for the Assembly to follow when considering transportation projects.

DOT discovered that the project also was out of compliance with building guidelines established by the state.

On Jan. 8, DOT returned to the Planning Commission in search of waivers for the features of the project that are out of compliance with state regulations. But the commission's tie vote left the recommendation that the Assembly reject the project.

Last week the Public Works and Planning Committee voted to recommend the Assembly approve the project.

Wheeler cast the only no vote on the recommendation in the Assembly Public Works Committee, citing many of the same arguments posed by the Freewheelers.

"What they have presented doesn't comply with the Non-motorized Transportation Plan," Wheeler said. "I think we should be getting more access for bikes in Juneau, not less."

Wheeler also questioned congestion forecasts offered by DOT as a justification for the project.

"I think their traffic projections are too big," Wheeler said.

Chris Morrow, a project planner for the Department of Transportation, acknowledged the projections might not be perfect, but said DOT expects traffic volumes near the bridge to increase 35 percent by 2022.

"We don't claim to have 20/20 future vision," Morrow said.

Morrow said the projections are based on a model using a 1.5 percent annual traffic growth rate, although Southeast has seen a 1.7 percent growth rate over the past 20 years.

Public Works Committee member Sanford said though the plan is controversial, it may be the only reasonable way to ease traffic congestion at the bridge until a second crossing is built connecting Douglas to the mainland.

"I am overall in support of (the project)," Sanford said. "I do have a concern about narrowing up that lane."

Morrow said DOT will present the project to the Assembly at the work session tentatively set for next month. The presentation will consist largely of information presented to the Planning Commission in December, he said.

Morrow said state statute stipulates that if final disapproval of the project is not received from the city within 90 days from when the project was submitted, then DOT may legally proceed with the project.

DOT, however, has requested a conclusive decision from the city, Morrow said.

"If they make no recommendation, then I can't tell you what would happen," he said. "We want to hear a definitive word of go or no go."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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