Assembly nixes Lena Pt. overpass

Neighbors seeking ways to separate Lena Loop traffic from that of $50 million federal fisheries complex

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Juneau Assembly members on Monday turned down a proposal to build an overpass favored by Lena Point neighbors to alleviate traffic from proposed fisheries research centers.

The city is about a month away from completing a draft environmental assessment comparing options to deal with traffic from new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries research centers at Lena Point, a peninsula of land near mile 17 of Glacier Highway.

Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said an overpass would make future development at Lena Point easier, but it would be hard to dig up the funding given other community needs.

"I'd love to see an overpass, but I don't know if we can come up with another million," he said.

Lena residents have said they want to keep the rural character of their neighborhood intact, requesting an overpass or other measures to separate the new traffic from Lena Loop Road.

Cheryl Fluck, president of the Lena Extended Neighborhood Association, said Lena Point residents likely will have a mixed reaction to the Assembly's direction.

"What we need to do is take it back to the neighborhood association," she said.

MacKinnon said the city has gone through a long process in finding a site for the fisheries centers. After NOAA was unable to build at a proposed site at Auke Cape, near the Auke Bay ferry terminal, the city purchased a rock quarry at Lena Point for $3.9 million, which is now designated for the facilities, he said.

During Monday's work session, Assembly members suggested staff explore the possibility of gates, cul-de-sacs or other measures to keep traffic off Lena Loop Road. Assembly member Ken Koelsch said he would like the city to wait and see if there is a notable increase in traffic on Lena Loop, then move ahead with gates or other options.

Assembly member Marc Wheeler suggested that the city set aside money to mitigate traffic if needed. Making sure the new road is plowed when it snows and providing water and sewer hookups for residents also were discussed.

Assembly members also suggested the city work with NOAA to direct employees to use the new route. In a letter to the city, NOAA Alaska Region Administrator James Balsiger said he was prepared to establish such a policy.

"NOAA/NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) regrets that our project has created so much tension and confusion in the community. Clearly, we recognize that the construction of a facility like ours will be the subject of great interest and concern to the Juneau community, in particular with our future neighbors at Lena Point," Balsiger wrote.

Balsiger said NOAA supports hiring a facilitator or liaison to work with neighbors and the community during construction. Additionally, the agency supports a realignment of its entrance drive if project costs don't increase, according to the letter.

The city has $2.7 million in state and local funds to alleviate traffic associated with the fisheries centers. According to the city engineering department, a cul-de-sac with gates and an emergency access road would increase project costs by about $300,000. Cost estimates for an interior route with a bridge overpass range in price between $3.6 and $4.7 million.

Neighborhood cost estimates of an overpass were much lower than the city's, Fluck said.

The city is finishing its assessment of traffic options and hopes to deliver a draft report to the Assembly for review in late August or September, city engineer Rorie Watt said. The city is leaning toward a new interior route instead of upgrades to Lena Loop Road, he added.

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