Plan for moose fence on Minnesota Drive draws criticism

nherz@adn.comJuly 12, 2013 

A five-mile stretch of Minnesota Drive and O'Malley Road is the most dangerous in all of Anchorage when it comes to vehicle collisions with moose.

Between 2000 and 2010, the corridor between International Airport Road and the Old Seward Highway saw 106 encounters with the animals, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

State traffic planners say fencing off the highway, like they've done along Elmore Road and the Glenn Highway, would slice that figure in half, and there's federal money to pay for it. But the state's plan is colliding with area residents who argue that tree-cutting associated with the project will expose their homes to highway noise and cut property values.

At a bowling alley in Jewel Lake, more than three dozen people turned out Thursday night to pepper a DOT representative with questions and to convey their displeasure.

"I think DOT should give residents that live along this belt some consideration," said Gerald Valinske, 62, a retired railroad worker who lives just east of Minnesota Drive. "Not just the people that are driving."

The department is planning to respond to the concerns and to make adjustments. But officials also believe the project meets noise standards, and that because the federal funding is earmarked for improving safety, it can't be used to pay for a noise buffer.

"Our mission is to safely move people in our transportation corridor. We have policies that we have to abide by," said Project Manager Kevin Jackson. But, he added: "We're certainly receptive to the comments we're receiving."

Jackson was in the cross hairs Thursday at the Jewel Lake Bowling Center, where area residents showed up at the meeting armed with petitions and stacks of photocopies documenting their complaints.

Foremost among them was that the state hadn't notified them about the project. Several said that they'd been informed by neighbors who were going door to door to spread the word.

Jackson said the state had sent out a mailer to 1,149 addresses along Minnesota Drive, two blocks deep, in April. But only a single resident of the 40 at the meeting reported receiving one.

"I know my house hasn't moved," said Wendell Orr, who lives adjacent to the highway. "I didn't get a letter."

The state has posted all the plans and other project information, including comments from the public with responses from the department, on a website, minnesotadrivemoose.com.

Only 19 people signed in at an open house held by the DOT in May, and Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, who organized Thursday's meeting, said that she didn't start hearing from residents until late June.

She said she was pleased that Jackson agreed to attend the meeting Thursday but added that all her concerns about the project hadn't been mollified.

"I'll be satisfied when my constituents are satisfied," she said.

After the meeting, Jackson said in a follow-up email that the DOT will shift the plans for the fence to minimize its impact on residents "while maintaining the needs and goals of the project."

He added that the state would also work with Costello and other area legislators to try to secure state funding for a noise barrier.

That money, however, would have to come in a separate package from the federal funds -- and Jackson said that project is still moving ahead with bidding scheduled for the fall and construction likely beginning next year.

In the meantime, residents said they will keep pushing their own agenda.

"You've got a government agency that has it in their mind to do the right thing," Valinske said. "But it's not about the people. That's why communities get together and put a stink up."

 

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 

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