My Turn: Winter disaster in store along highway

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Concerning the mile of construction along Sunny Point: Now that we've read Southeast Department of Transportation Director Malcolm Menzies Oct. 14 My Turn and the Oct. 25 front-page report in the Empire, does anyone feel safer about the coming winter commute?

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Despite the described planning, I have unanswered questions:

1) Will the dedicated high speed snow plows be additional equipment or does the use of them at the project site mean their use in other accustomed areas will not occur, thus slowing snow removal elsewhere?

2) The addition of the reflectors along the fog line on the roadway are welcomed, but after they get peeled off by the snow graders what is planned to replace them?

3) Is there an upper limit to the number of accidents before DOT takes more substantial action?

4) I'd like to know what DOT's experience is with "jersey blocks" bypass method during Alaskan winters? How about winters in Southeast? (Sorry, but I lost my "trust us" assurances of government planners many years ago.)

5) In Seattle on the floating bridge, not too dissimilar from our concrete channel, tow trucks are placed at either end to rapidly remove stalled vehicles. How rapidly will damaged and stalled vehicles be removed here?

6) The Juneau Police Department has said it wants to first investigate accidents before vehicles are removed. In snowy conditions traffic will be forced to a crawl to get past. How will that be sped up?

7) What if both lanes are blocked? How will police cars and emergency vehicles even get to accident scenes with both lanes blocked by damaged cars?

8) It seems to me that even if emergency vehicle entry is made at the former Map Co turnoff, if both lanes are blocked and traffic solidly backed up behind the accident, they will have to proceed down the on-coming lane to get to the accident site. How safe will that be?

9) In very cold weather will drivers backed up behind accidents have to back up to the new turn-arounds to bypass the accident scene on the old Glacier highway? How safe will that be?

In a nutshell, I'd like to feel more confident that this concrete channel plan was made with some thought to winter driving conditions and that the measures being taken now aren't just stopgap actions resulting from some letters to the editor. I'm no highway engineer, but I have 50 years of winter driving experience, 25 of them here in Juneau, and I am very concerned.

Are DOT officials gambling that nothing serious will happen, gambling with our lives? Are they hoping and crossing their fingers that it will be a mild winter. Someone made the decision to have this traffic-channel construction bypass despite Juneau's history of black ice, heavy snow build-up, and the difficulty of snow removal. It seems to me the traditional removal method of pushing snow off the roadway is now virtually impossible.

I've talked to a plow driver in the state maintenance department and he thought it was going to be a disaster. He had no idea how he was going to remove the snow. Typically, snow is scraped down to the asphalt to remove as much of it as possible, and remaining ice grooved to limit side slipping. With the concrete blocks in place, how will that happen? With the plows, some snow will go over the tops, but it appears to me that much of it will fall back into the outer lanes. Will the snow blowers be able to remove snow down to the road bed? Also, snow blowers go quite slowly, providing an additional traffic hazard.

If a man in the trenches is so concerned about this situation, it would appear that those in the "head shed" are not asking for their advice. Are DOT officials so committed to what we have now, the concrete channel with some stopgap measures, that there is nothing else, no plan B? At what point will a substantial change be made? What is the upper limit in the number of accidents. Do we wait for a few fatalities before public pressure makes changes happen? When Secon employees are out there at 15 degrees in driving snow trying to pull the concrete dividers from the ice, I wish them well.

• Steve Wolf is a Juneau resident.



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