Intense traffic riles Commodore Drive residents

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 9, 2012 

Traffic picks up on Commodore Drive as the afternoon rush hour gets under way Thursday. A study found 4,200 cars and trucks using the street daily, most passing through between Abbott Road and O'Malley Road -- more than double the 2,000 vehicles expected to typically use such a street.

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Residents along Commodore Drive off O'Malley Road say their street is so overloaded with traffic that some people are afraid to let their kids play in the front yard, let alone walk or ride bikes in the street.

They're not happy that traffic officials tell them a long-term solution is years out.

"We don't see our neighbors. We don't use our yards," Jill Missal told a crowd gathered at the most recent Abbott Loop Community Council meeting. "This is a very dangerous situation that's killing our neighborhood."

She and others in the neighborhood want the city to put up a barrier that prevents traffic from turning from O'Malley onto Commodore. Emergency vehicles would still be able to get through.

Neighbor Bob Capuozzo says that's not a bad idea.

"The long-term solution is not going to work for us," said Capuozzo, who has two small children. "We will move."

Capuozzo and his wife, Lisa, are upset their soon-to-be-4-year-old can't even learn to ride a bike with training wheels on the narrow sidewalk that borders the street. "If she takes a wrong turn, we can't have that," he said.

TOO MANY CARS

The stretch of Commodore affected is about a quarter-mile long, and is filled with about 50 zero-lot line houses. Narrow sidewalks slope into the street. The mature trees of an established neighborhood stand in many front yards.

From O'Malley, Commodore curves east up a hill and intersects with Jamestown and Independence Drives, which go into densely populated neighborhoods between O'Malley and Abbott Road, and over to Abbott.

The city agrees Commodore is overloaded.

Workers counted 4,200 vehicles per day during a study early in the summer, city traffic engineer Stephanie Mormilo said. The maximum a local road like Commodore is meant to have is 2,000 vehicles per day, she said.

"The primary reason is it's been the only throughway," she said.

THE INDEPENDENCE ROUTE

This summer, the city connected Independence Drive to O'Malley, so now drivers can also take Independence from Abbott to O'Malley. It only opened three weeks ago, so it may take awhile for drivers to figure it out, Mormilo said. That should take some traffic off Commodore, she said.

Unlike Commodore, Independence doesn't have a lot of driveways spilling onto it.

But there's a problem. Where O'Malley intersects Independence, the roads are underlain with poor soils, Mormilo said. O'Malley is sunken and gets potholes and cracks. And O'Malley traffic coming into the intersection from the east encounter a drastic hill, she said.

So traffic will be restricted at that intersection: No left turns are allowed from O'Malley onto Independence, or Independence onto O'Malley. It's only good for right turns.

Commodore remains the only street where you can turn north off O'Malley and get to Abbott and the neighborhoods in the rectangle bounded by Abbott, Lake Otis Parkway, O'Malley and the Seward Highway.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, a relentless stream of cars piled off O'Malley onto Commodore. Most of them passed through Commodore and headed towards other neighborhoods and Abbott.

In the morning rush hour, the flow of vehicles goes the opposite direction, say residents.

But there's high traffic all day long, said Mary Ellen Girard, a retired nurse who has lived on a street off Commodore for 28 years.

"I walked all the way around the block (on Commodore) for years and years, but I stopped doing that because it's dangerous," she said.

Commodore's been too packed with cars and trucks for about five years, she said.

What tipped some residents over the edge, and made them more anxious for a solution, was when part of O'Malley was closed this summer for the Independence-O'Malley intersection construction.

The contractor diverted O'Malley traffic through Commodore.

O'Malley reopened, but some residents say not all of the additional traffic has gone away.

O'MALLEY TO EXPAND

The ultimate solution, said city public works director Ron Thompson, is tied up with a proposed $15 million re-do of O'Malley Road that's in a state bond package on the November general election ballot.

It's a state project. The preliminary plans call for expanding O'Malley from two lanes to four lanes with a divider down the middle, said Chris Post, the Alaska Department of Transportation's lead engineer for the project.

When O'Malley is rebuilt, it will be raised six to eight feet where it intersects Independence, Mormillo said. The slopes on O'Malley will be flattened somewhat. At that point, road-builders should be able to provide left turns at Independence and O'Malley, she said. Then Independence will be a more attractive choice to drivers who may have been using Commodore to travel from O'Malley to Abbott, and points in between.

The state has been considering continuing to allow left turns from O'Malley to Commodore and Commodore to O'Malley due to the volume of traffic, Post said. That concerns some of the residents.

Meanwhile, the owners of H2Oasis Indoor Water Park on the south side of O'Malley near the Seward Highway want a left turn off O'Malley toward their business.

But if there's a left turn off O'Malley to Commodore, there can't be one on the little street that leads to H2Oasis, Chelea, because the two roads are too close together, Post said.

It's early in the design process, and decisions are not locked in, said another DOT official, Gary Lincoln. Construction may begin in 2014, if the bond passes in November.

Thompson expects a long, public discussion before the state makes a decision on exactly what to do.

LOOKING FOR HELP

Missal, neighbor Dominic Shallies, and other residents are looking for more immediate answers. They're enlisting the help of local legislators. They're planning to ask the Abbott Loop Community Council to pass a resolution supporting their efforts.

The city could turn Commodore into a cul de sac, Missal said. Or gate it off at either O'Malley or Jamestown, so drivers couldn't use Commodore as a through street. The gate would have locks that emergency vehicles could use to get through.

Some local streets that intersect Raspberry Road are gated off, she said. She visited the neighborhood.

"I saw people in their yards, and some washing RVs. They looked happy."

The city isn't keen on gating off roads, Mormilo said, due to public safety and access concerns.

"I don't think there is a quick and easy solution," Mormilo said.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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