Traffic worries new school's neighbors

n High number of cars poses routing dilemma

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2000

Neighbors of the proposed high school at Dimond Park want the city to slow or reduce traffic on adjacent Riverside Drive.

City officials have agreed to look at options, but said any adjustment is likely to affect other parts of the Mendenhall Valley.

"There's a real concern with existing traffic and kids and what's going to happen when this all gets developed," outgoing Juneau Assembly member and neighborhood resident Dwight Perkins said Wednesday night at a meeting of about 40 residents, city staff and design consultants at Riverbend Elementary School.

Local voters approved $63 million in bonds in October 1999 to build a 1,200-student high school at Dimond Park and to renovate Juneau-Douglas High School.

Construction won't begin until the state makes a commitment to reimburse part of the bond debt. The new school could open in fall 2004 if the project is funded this year, project planners said.

Voters allowed up to $2 million in bond proceeds to be spent immediately on designing both school projects. That work is under way at the Juneau firm Minch-Ritter-Voelckers Architects.

The new high school would be part of what's called Dimond Community Complex, which already holds 450-student Riverbend Elementary and some sports fields. The city hopes to add a public swimming pool and gym someday.

"We want it to be a place as comfortable for you to walk a dog as for a 15-year-old or a 6-year-old to go to school," City Architect Catherine Fritz told the site's neighbors.

But it will be a challenge to get pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses in and out of the complex, while letting children safely cross Riverside Drive and maintaining a traffic flow.

There could be 950 parking spaces at the complex, planners said. An average of 9,600 vehicles a day passed the site during a 1999 count, said Mark Pusich of R&M Engineering, a project consultant.

It's already dangerous for children to cross Riverside Drive, parents said. Drivers speed, pass on the right and don't stop for pedestrians.

Riverside Drive traditionally has collected traffic from residential side streets and sent it to Egan Drive. Neighborhood residents said that may have to change.

The city, which owns the street, will put in a left-turn lane, Fritz said. Other options include a traffic light and a pedestrian overpass at an intersection, or slowing traffic on Riverside Drive with engineering techniques such as curves in the road or a different road texture at pedestrian crossings.

Either way, the changes likely will encourage some commuters to use Mendenhall Loop Road instead of Riverside, Fritz said.

Another option is to start the school day after the commuter rush. School district officials also must decide whether to require high school students to stay on campus throughout the day. Schools Superintendent Gary Bader has told the Juneau School Board that's his preference.

The board is likely to feel pressure for a closed campus from neighborhood residents, who said Wednesday they are concerned about additional traffic, vandalism, trespassing, litter and noise from students coming and going throughout the day.

Residents also asked for a greenbelt and a fence between the high school and houses north of it on Rivercourt Way. Planners are considering a greenbelt about 50 feet wide, Fritz said.

The next public meeting on the new high school design is an open house set for 5-6:30 p.m. Sept. 21 at the JDHS library.

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