In the congratulatory haze following the adoption of the new Areawide Transportation Plan, a simple fact fell by the wayside: It's not really a plan. Basically, this AWTP is a 1960's era recipe for more urban sprawl.
The highest-impact and longest-lasting elements of the AWTP are two old-fashioned public works projects: Overpasses for Egan Drive and a second crossing to Douglas. Yes, a few sops have been given to the usual pack of annoying progressive thinkers: Interconnected roads and bike trails for the Valley, better bus schedules and measures (easily retracted later) to reduce single-passenger commuter traffic. Those frills, though, were not allowed to get in the way of the real prize: Big construction projects using someone else's money.
The overpasses and second crossing will undermine all the other intents of the transportation plan. If you increase capacity for a highway, people are not likely to take you very seriously when you ask them to use it in a different way. Instead, you encourage people to spread their housing further and further from the former urban center, resulting in a sprawl of suburbia that is expensive in terms of city services, natural resource use and environmental consequences. Additionally, such areas cannot be well-served by public transit. The second crossing to Douglas is even more debilitating to Juneau's future as a real city: It would spread low-density suburbia into North Douglas and forever take away any chance of making downtown Juneau the center of the community that bears its name.
The making of the AWTP had all the earmarks of classic Juneau civic planning: The stacked committee, the feel-good public meeting whose results are ignored and the heavy hand of old-fashioned "planners" and developers eager to build a Juneau modeled after the suburban Anytowns that predominate in the Lower 48. Assumptions were made at the beginning that Juneau would continue to expand in the same haphazard way as in the past and that AWTP process was distorted to facilitate that "plan."
There are many ways for Juneau to grow and develop without the wasteful sprawl that deadens cities. Development within our current infrastructure and new, smarter zoning laws should go hand-in-hand with a forward-looking transportation plan to create a vibrant city 20 years from now. How unfortunate that with this Areawide Transportation Plan we are once again stuck looking into the past. I suggest we use it as a starting point to come up with something better.
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