Officials prepare for winter traffic

Department of Transportation director says vehicles should be safe

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

The state, city and construction company Secon are preparing for winter travel through the Sunny Point Project construction area.

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A meeting was held last week to discuss options to ensure the safety of drivers on Egan Drive this winter, said Malcolm Menzies, regional director for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Officials say the area should remain safe even in snowy conditions with emergency vehicle access, the help of high-speed snow plows and turnarounds for plow trucks at each end of the construction area. The area also will be the state's first priority for plowing when snow falls.

"I would imagine there'll be lessons learned from this and there will probably be corrections in the winter months, but right now we think we're coming up with a decent program for driver safety through the construction area," Menzies said.

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The Sunny Point Project will provide the city's first underpass and create an interchange and access road that runs past the new Wal-Mart store. It also is expected to reduce traffic in Lemon Creek on Glacier Highway because drivers will be able to turn onto Egan Drive toward downtown, instead of being routed through Lemon Creek from the Fred Meyer area.

The state has instructed the contractor to put in "maintenance turnarounds" at each end of the construction zone, Menzies said. The turnarounds would allow the plow trucks to circle back through the construction area in case of heavy snowfall, he said.

The department has two high-speed snowplows that are dedicated to snow removal on Egan Drive, he said.

"Egan expressway is our primary snow removal area (in Juneau)," Menzies said. "It is priority one. Their first concern will be the construction area."

If a heavy storm hits and the high-speed plow trucks have difficulty getting the snow over the concrete barriers, the department may use other snow removal equipment to keep traffic flowing, he said.

Reflectors will soon be added to the concrete barriers, more signs will placed around the site, and a glare screen will be placed between the north and southbound lanes to assist drivers in the winter months, Menzies said.

Thel Mason, project manager for Secon, said construction will shut down for the winter once adverse conditions arrive. Construction will resume when the weather improves in the spring.

"We'll be proactive and react to any and all issues at DOT's request," Mason said. "When they ask for our assistance, we will be proactive in any way we can be."

City Manager Rod Swope said the Juneau Police Department and Capital City Fire and Rescue have been in close contact with project officials.

"Our main concern is being able to ensure that we have emergency access through that area, or to that area, if we do have any problems," he said.

Menzies said a number of suggestions have been put forth to address access for emergency vehicles, including emergency outlets within the construction zone, reducing the traffic to one lane, or further reducing the speed limit. The state is looking at a way to provide access to the construction zone through an emergency outlet near the former Party Zone but has had difficulty finding a gate that will work with the concrete barriers, he said.

Reducing the traffic to one lane within the construction zone would not be feasible, Menzies said.

"That doesn't work for capacity reasons," he said. "We have more traffic than we can handle."

Menzies said the state's traffic engineers are telling him it is not necessary to further reduce the construction zone speed limit from 45 miles per hour.

"There's some controversy of whether the lowering of speed actually works," he said. "It will be limited by conditions."

The state had considered placing tow trucks at both ends of the construction zones for speedy vehicle removal, but JPD wants to be able to investigate accidents prior to any towing, Menzies said. If any accidents block the traffic in the construction zone then it will be rerouted to Old Glacier Highway until the area is clear, he said.

Menzies and Mason said drivers can expect the concrete barriers lining the construction zone to be virtually the same as they are now throughout the winter. More conversations and planning will take place as the days grow colder, Menzies said.

"We are continuing to review," he said.

Mason said "substantial completion" of the project will be next fall, meaning construction should not impede traffic next winter. Job completion is expected for spring 2009, he said.

"We're crossing our fingers and hoping for a mild winter," Mason said.



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