Proposed road improvements on and near the Douglas Bridge were received with some approval and some skepticism Thursday night at an open house held by the state Department of Transportation.
Chris Morrow of DOT gave two presentations and held a four-hour open house to address residents' concerns and solicit their responses.
On displays lining the walls of the Egan Room at Centennial Hall, Morrow illustrated traffic volume projections for the next 20 years, possible solutions for traffic congestion, and drawings of the proposed project.
The project would widen sections of Egan Drive and 10th Street, add a reversible lane on the Douglas Bridge to accommodate rush-hour traffic, and construct a circular roadway, called a roundabout, at the intersection of Douglas Highway and North Douglas Highway.
The reversible lane on the bridge would run one-way from Douglas to Juneau for about three or four hours in the morning. For the rest of the day the lane would run from Juneau to Douglas. Overhead traffic lights on both sides of the bridge would tell motorists when the lane is open.
The bicycle lanes on the bridge would be removed to make room for the reversible lane.
Morrow said DOT expects the traffic volume to increase 40 percent by 2022, causing gridlock at the 10th and Egan intersection if preventative plans are not implemented.
John Andersen, a cyclist who commutes to work from downtown Juneau to the Mendenhall Valley, questioned the validity of the traffic-growth projections, saying that some of the more extreme jumps in traffic volume may be attributed to construction projects around Juneau or other factors not considered by DOT.
Andersen said he had not made up his mind on the proposal, but added that removing the bicycle lanes would slow traffic traveling on the bridge because cars would be caught behind cyclists using the regular lane. Andersen said most bicycles travel at about 10 mph while riding uphill on the bridge.
He suggested making it more inconvenient to park downtown in order to reduce traffic. He also recommended constructing a parking garage on the Juneau side of the bridge that would provide free shuttle buses downtown.
"How much of a parking garage can you build for $8 million?" Andersen asked, referring to the projected $8.5 million cost of the DOT proposal.
Henry Jebe, a North Douglas resident, supported the idea of the roundabout, which he said would slow down motorists entering Douglas from Juneau.
"That means less people coming down off the bridge doing 40 mph," Jebe said. "That roundabout solves several different problems - it slows down cars and makes it easier to enter into traffic from North Douglas."
He said a roundabout also would create a more level roadway, making it safer to exit from a tilted bank in the road where the Douglas Highway and North Douglas Highway intersect. That intersection is more prone to accidents during the winter when ice and snow make the road slick, he said.
Jebe also said plans for the reversible lane would not hinder cyclists much because they could use the pedestrian sidewalk.
"I know a lot of cyclists who already use the pedestrian (sidewalk)," Jebe said.
But Joyce Levine, a Juneau resident and cyclist, disagreed.
"That's a dangerous place," she said, warning of potential collisions between cyclists and pedestrians.
"You're encouraging people to ride on the road - that's not right," Levine told Morrow.
Removing the bike lanes would encourage accidents, Levine said, noting that the state should assume some liability for any accidents if they move forward with the project.
"The city has encouraged people to ride their bicycles," she said, referring to events such as the annual bike-to-work day. "If they're encouraging them to ride their bikes, then the DOT should provide bike lanes that are regularly swept of broken glass and other debris."
Juneau resident Dennis Harris opposed the project as a whole, but said he supports installing the roundabout. The rest of the plan is unnecessary, he said.
"I'm not sure this needs to be done right now," he said. "I don't see how these projected traffic figures can be accurate because I don't think there's going to be any place to park all the cars coming downtown."
He recommended implementing more frequent bus service at peak hours of travel, making arrangements with Valley businesses to establish use of their parking lots as park-and-ride lots, and encouraging the state to provide free bus service for its employees.
"Part of the problem is that highway engineers think about moving cars, and they don't think about people," he said.
Morrow said DOT should have residents' comments reviewed by the end of August. The agency then will take the plan to the Juneau Assembly for approval later this year.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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