Highway link still at heart of roads plan

Glenn-Seward highway connector would be broken into three parts.

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 25, 2011 

What's happened to the idea of joining the Glenn and Seward highways and making them more freeway-like through Anchorage?

A state proposal to break the project into three chunks, and build two sections of it over the next dozen years, is at the heart of an upcoming new plan for future roads, trails and buses.

The whole plan, covering now to 2035, includes more than $3.7 billion worth of projects, not counting the cost of the proposed Knik Arm bridge. About a fourth of it involves the Glenn-Seward connection.

When it becomes final, the Metropolitan Transportation Plan listing of projects will drive decisions for what gets built over the next dozen years among major roads and trails in Anchorage and Eagle River-Chugiak.

It will specify what can be built 13 years out, between 2024 and 2035, and what gets relegated to "wish list" status -- projects that could move ahead only if unexpected money turns up before 2035.

More than $600 million in proposals the planners think would help move traffic didn't make the final cut, and are described as "illustrative," but not funded.

The plan will also set recommendations for investment in the People Mover bus system.

AMATS, a committee of state and city officials that makes decisions on much of the government transportation spending in Anchorage, is meeting Thursday to consider officially releasing an initial draft. There's already a version online, though, at amatsinfo.org.

Public meetings and newspaper inserts explaining the plan are scheduled in October, followed eventually by an Anchorage Assembly vote. The AMATS Policy Committee aims to make the final call next spring.

THE BRIDGE

Here's a glimpse at the current version.

The plan encompasses two huge projects -- the Knik Arm bridge at nearly $1 billion, and a Glenn-Seward connection at close to $900 million.

The bridge across Knik Arm would link Anchorage and the largely undeveloped Point MacKenzie area of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Anchorage transportation planners cite the Knik Arm bridge cost separately from the total of all projects since the bridge is supposed to be paid for by tolls, possibly with $150 million in state funds as backup.

But the actual financial terms for building the crossing won't be known until after the rest of the long-range transportation planning is complete next year, says the plan.

If the bridge eats up any federal highway money or state money that would have gone to other Anchorage area projects, that could result in worsening traffic jams, the transportation plan says.

THE HIGHWAYS

The proposed highway-to-highway project is broken into three parts with the biggest section -- the piece that could transform Fairview as a neighborhood -- put off for at least 13 years.

The proposal was top priority in the last long-range plan. Environmental and route studies progressed a little, but were halted by Gov. Sean Parnell's administration over controversy and the high cost.

The state is no longer looking at it as one big project, Alaska Department of Transportation regional director Robert Campbell said Thursday at an AMATS meeting.

The new highway vision:

• Build a new freeway interchange on the Seward Highway at 36th Avenue, for $108 million. It would eliminate a stoplight that jams up traffic, and would also connect to Tudor Road and a separated pathway.

• Depress the freeway between 20th and 33rd Avenue -- a stretch that intersects with Fireweed Lane and Northern Lights and Benson boulevards. Create new interchanges connecting the highway with Northern Lights and Benson, and a separate multiuse path. The price tag: $178 million.

Both of these phases would be built over the next 12 years, between now and 2023.

• Finally, build the actual Seward Highway-Glenn connection, for $605 million. Details as to the route are sketchy, but the freeway would be depressed and bridges and decking would be built across it for cross streets and amenities.

Would it cross Fairview and lead to urban renewal of the neighborhood?

"There's no recommended alternative, so we can't choose right now," said DOT AMATS planner Bart Rudolph, during Thursday's meeting.

The $605 million-phase is in the long-term section of the plan, meaning construction couldn't get under way for 13 more years.

TOP ROADS

The road and other projects listed in the plan were scored on such factors as how much prep work has been done, how soon the improvements are needed, and whether they serve pedestrians and bicycle riders as well as drivers.

The resulting list is not in priority order for construction, but is in order of how well each scored, said a consultant.

The top five road projects, all with sidewalks or paths:

• Seward Highway, Dowling Road to Dimond Boulevard, $88.8 million. Widen from four to six lanes, improve frontage roads, rebuild Dowling interchange and roundabouts.

• Dowling extension, C Street to Minnesota Drive, $63.4 million.

• 100th Avenue extension, C to Minnesota, $8.7 million.

• Seward Highway, the 36th Avenue interchange.

• Glenn Highway, Hiland Road to Artillery Road, $62.8 million. Improve interchanges and bridges, add lanes.

ALSO-RANS

Examples of projects that didn't get in the plan except as wish-list items:

• Tudor Road: two projects worth $55.6 million total that would be aimed at streamlining the road with turn restrictions and diversion of some local roads from direct access to Tudor.

• Boniface Parkway: $22.5 million, for a similar project.

• Jewel Lake Road-International Airport Road interchange: $50.6 million.

TRAILS

Besides walkways included with road projects, there's a separate trail and sidewalk list.

Five projects scored at the top, among them, Campbell Creek Trail, with $15.6 million for an under-crossing at Lake Otis Parkway. Also top-ranked: improvements along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail at Fish Creek where fencing creates a blind corner; construction of a path on Northern Lights from LaHonda to Lois Drives; and construction of missing sidewalk segments along Checkmate Drive and along Patterson Street.

PEOPLE MOVER

Between now and 2035, 93 new buses will be needed at a cost of $37.4 million (the costs include inflation, as with all of the projects) to replace buses as they wear out.

The plan also includes money for additional new buses to allow more frequent service, replacement of AnchorRides buses for seniors and people with disabilities, replacement of van-pool vehicles, and bus stop and transit center improvements.

MONEY

A big change for this plan versus earlier ones is that policy-makers are counting on the state picking up a bigger share of Anchorage transportation costs.

The federal share would drop from 71 percent in the existing long-range plan to 40 percent in the new one. One category of federal funding for the last plan -- "earmarks," money set aside for specific projects by our members of Congress -- doesn't exist anymore. In the last plan, earmarks made up 11 percent of the funding.

The state share of paying for Anchorage transportation projects would rise from 18 percent to 56 percent. The local contribution would decrease from 11 percent to 4 percent.


Metropolitan Transportation Plan

The plan: www.amatsinfo.org

Open houses and presentations:

City hall, noon-4 p.m. Oct. 24 with presentations at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Wendler Middle School, 6-8 p.m. Oct. 24, presentation at 6:30.

Eagle River Library, 4-8 p.m. Oct. 25, presentations at 5 and 6:30.

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