Anchorage

Weeks after snowstorms, some Anchorage bus stops remain inaccessible

bus stop, snow removal, People Mover

On a recent afternoon, Michael Haselow waited for the Anchorage People Mover perched atop a small mountain of dirty snow that was supposed to be a bus stop.

Below him, traffic rushed by on the Old Seward Highway.

Haselow takes the bus from this stretch of the Old Seward Highway in South Anchorage toward downtown daily. Conditions in recent weeks have been far less than ideal: Mounds of snow leftover from a series of December snow storms have eaten the sidewalks and entombed bus stops, turning them into rock-hard berms.

“Any bus stop you try to go for, you can’t get on it because there’s no sidewalks,” Haselow said. “And if you walk on the road, you get hit.”

When the bus pulled up, he’d be forced to hurtle down the icy slope of the berm, as if descending a miniature Mount Marathon. The drivers tried to make it as easy as possible, Haselow said. Still, he wondered why it has taken so long to fix the situation.

Six weeks after a series of snowstorms dumped more than three feet of snow on the city, bus stops on a handful of Anchorage roads owned and maintained by the state Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities remain buried and treacherous. As of midweek, bus stops along the west side of C Street and on the Old Seward Highway had been devoured by the berms, some four or five feet high.

So why haven’t the bus stops been cleared, weeks after the bulk of the snow stopped falling?

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“The main factor is the amount of snow,” said Justin Shelby, a spokesman for the transportation department. Clearing snow from sidewalks and roads involves hauling away 200-800 truckloads per mile, he said.

bus stop, snow removal, People Mover
bus stop, snow removal, People Mover

Bus stops along roads maintained by the city are largely unburied — if not pristinely plowed. The city says bus stops on the roads it is responsible for maintaining were cleared within two weeks of the December storms, and that bus stop accessibility is a top snow removal priority.

The remaining berm-obscured bus stops are an obvious problem, said Bart Rudolph, the planning and communications director for People Mover.

“Anyone can drive the streets and see there are big berms along entire sections of road that make it extremely difficult” for people to access bus stops, he said.

Who takes away the snow?

bus stop, snow removal, People Mover

The responsibility for clearing away berms of snow that block sidewalks falls to the state or city, depending on which entity owns the road, Rudolph said.

Some streets and sidewalks are owned and maintained by the Municipality of Anchorage. Others — including major roadways that are also bus routes, such as the Old Seward Highway and C Street — the ownership and maintenance responsibility falls to the state Department of Transportation.

The People Mover agency is responsible for clearing snow only from bus stop pads – the concrete squares where people wait for the bus, said Rudolph. If the pads are buried under hard berms, the crews can’t get to them.

“We can only push snow,” Rudolph said. “Once it becomes frozen, or if there are right-of-way concerns, there’s nowhere to push the snow.”

bus stop, snow removal, People Mover

Clearing access to bus stops is a “priority” for city snow removal crews, said Paul VanLandingham, the director of municipal street maintenance.

In the aftermath of the December storms, VanLandingham said he opted to devote crew time to clearing sidewalks and cutting paths to bus stops. In some cases, that led to the road narrowing that plagued the city for weeks, with two-lane streets reduced to one.

“It was a decision I made,” he said.

But, he said, “we believe we had all our Municipality of Anchorage sidewalks and bus stops opened by within two weeks of the snowfall,” he said.

The state DOT prioritizes the busiest state-owned roads for first clearing and hauling away snow, Shelby said. But it doesn’t specifically prioritize ensuring access to bus stops.

Shelby said the department is down to the last few streets that haven’t been cleared, and aims to finish the job — unburying the bus stops — by the end of the week. But other maintenance needs could change that.

“If people are concerned about the amount of resources we’re able to apply to snow removal, I’d encourage them to reach out to their local representative,” he said.

bus stop, snow removal, People Mover
bus stop, snow removal, People Mover

Doug Miller is an Anchorage attorney who serves on the Anchorage Transit Advisory Board, a citizen group that advises the People Mover bus system. They’ve long heard from transit users about the difficulties of catching the bus in snowy conditions. But the situation right now is “unacceptable,” he said.

Recently, a driver saw Miller standing on a berm and “pulled the bus as far into the snow as he could and then I basically jumped from the berm onto the bus,” he said.

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It’s hard enough to do if you’re able-bodied and carrying nothing. But with groceries, a stroller, crutches, a wheelchair?

“There are probably a lot of disabled people who just can’t ride the bus right now,” Miller said.

The ADN’s Marc Lester contributed reporting to this story.

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at mtheriault@adn.com.

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