Juneau will get its first-ever highway overpass as early as 2006 - a rite of passage of sorts for a town where car traffic has grown tremendously over the last few decades.
The $20 million project involves elevating Egan Drive about 30 feet over a new eastern access road to Glacier Highway in the vicinity of the former Kmart. A separate western access road would connect Egan Drive to Sunny Drive, state transportation officials said.
The intent is to improve access to Lemon Valley and reduce accidents at the now-dangerous intersections connecting Egan to Glacier Highway and Sunny Drive, said Alaska Department of Transportation project manager Jim Heumann.
"We want to do it right because it's our first overpass in Juneau," Heumann said. He said additional Egan Drive overpasses may be considered in the future at locations such as Salmon Creek to keep the thoroughfare's increasing traffic moving smoothly.
The project will fill almost five acres of wetlands but will not encroach on the nearby Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.
Residents on Sunny Drive are pleased about improved safety at their intersection - where many drivers avoid left turns in winter - but are concerned about increased traffic noise. The right-of-way for the Sunny Drive access road will extend into some residents' lots. Trees and bushes that now provide a noise buffer will be removed from the ditch on the east side of Sunny Drive as well as their yards.
Long-time Sunny Drive resident Steve Sorensen said he and many of his neighbors are saddened by the loss of their tree cover and are urging the transportation department to maintain a sufficient noise buffer for their neighborhood.
"Noise over here has really increased ... as traffic on Egan has increased so much over the years. Juneau is now a 24-hour town. It's kind of a constant noise," Sorensen said.
Sorensen was pleased to learn recently that the department is considering building a noise barrier on the embankment of Egan Drive.
The results of the department's 2004 study of noise at the intersection, and the project's environmental impact statement, will be available for public review in a month to six weeks, Heumann said.
There's no guarantee that the department will build a noise barrier, Heumann said. The state's policy on noise barriers requires the expensive structures to meet stringent requirements for feasibility and economic impact, he said.
The department plans to hold public meetings about the Sunny Point road construction project in January or February. The project has been under development since 1993, said Pat Kemp, the department's regional pre-construction engineer.
In 1994, the department decided to prohibit left turns from Glacier Highway onto Egan Drive because of severe accidents. Left-turning vehicles from Glacier Highway were "t-boned" by vehicles on Egan Drive, Kemp said.
"There are still problems out there and we want to fix them," Kemp said. To this date, there isn't enough "storage capacity" in the intersection's turn lanes and vehicles turning left onto Glacier Highway must cross into the high-speed lane, he said.
"We hope to finish with the environmental phase in the spring and move on to final design" afterward, Kemp said.
Kemp noted that the 2006 construction start date is speculative.
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.