Planning Commission OKs bridge redesign

Changes include new traffic circle in W. Juneau and a reversible middle lane on Douglas Bridge

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

The Juneau Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the state's conceptual design for changes on the Douglas Bridge and the intersection of 10th Street and Egan Drive, although cyclists said the plan puts their safety at risk.

The vote was 4-3.

"I don't like it," said Commissioner Jim Scholz, who voted for the proposal. "But I think we have to look at the predominant user of this bridge and that's the automobile user."

Bicycle riders said the plan would endanger cyclists and pedestrians. The plan's critics said it favored the 13,000 daily bridge drivers at the expense of 60 cyclists and 115 pedestrians traveling the bridge.

DOT officials said the plan would ease congestion and improve safety, and it was the best they could do.

"The plan makes the roadway less convenient, but not less safe," said Chris Morrow, DOT preliminary design and environmental group chief. "We may be stupid, but in 10 years we haven't been able to come up with anything other than what we've offered here. ... We can't please everybody and we wish there was a better solution."

DOT's proposal includes widening the 10th and Egan intersection and adding a third, one-way, reversible center lane to the bridge roadway.

The lane would operate for four to six hours in the morning and afternoon during peak drive times - funneling traffic onto Egan from Douglas in the morning and from Egan to Douglas in the afternoon. Overhead signal lights on each side of the bridge would tell motorists when the center lane is open.

The driving lanes on the bridge would be narrowed to accommodate a wider sidewalk, which could be used by cyclists. There would be an 11.5-foot-wide and 12-foot-wide driving lane on either side of a 10-foot-wide, one-way, center lane, allowing the walkway to expand from 6 feet to 8 feet.

Cyclists, who have the right to use the driving lanes, said the plan was a dangerous proposition.

"The bridge is a major cyclists' corridor," said Dave Bartlett, president of the Juneau Freewheelers cycling club. "At least on the paths in the Valley there's somewhere to go if you have to leave the roadway or (there's) a concrete barrier. But here you have a choice of either an unsafe position on the roadway or an unsafe position on the bike path."

Most cyclists who spoke Tuesday said narrow driving lanes endanger cyclists riding near big vehicles, pedestrians are at risk of being clipped by passing cyclists on a narrow sidewalk, and crossing three lanes of traffic to get to North Douglas is a hazard.

Pat Carroll, DOT preliminary design manager, said officials have 44 feet of bridge roadway width that can't be added to.

"The bridge is unique in the way it is constructed," said Carroll. "It was designed to hold what it holds. The bridge isn't strong enough to hold more and it can't be retrofitted."

DOT officials said the upside of the plan is that narrower lanes, a lower speed limit and cyclists using the driving lanes to ride, will slow traffic.

"This plan will not help speed the commute, but it will help the flow of traffic," Morrow said.

Other improvements include adding a single-lane roundabout, or circular roadway, at the intersection of Douglas Highway and North Douglas Highway, a left-turn lane into the Douglas Breeze In, a right-turn signal from inbound Egan onto the bridge; removing a crosswalk at Egan; and making a wider sidewalk on 10th Street near the Goldbelt building.

Morrow said the state will refine the design and plans to build the improvements in the summer of 2004.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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