Assembly says slow down in Auke Bay corridor

The intersection of Glacier Highway and Back Loop Road in front of De Hart's.

The intersection of Glacier Highway and Back Loop Road in front of De Hart’s. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly wants a say on the speed limit in the Auke Bay corridor. The panel last night (Monday) told state Transportation Department planners that the proposed speed limit – not a new roundabout – is a problem.

DOT proposes to build a circular intersection at Glacier Highway and the Back Loop Road. The project has gone through several iterations since DOT once proposed a controversial roundabout that would have eliminated DeHart’s store.

With the historic site – on Alaska standards – saved, the public is focusing on speed through the area.

The corridor is defined as an Urban Principal Arterial and it includes a U.S. Post Office, a city fire station, small businesses, Auke Bay Elementary School, and homes as well as major harbors.

Project consultant Nathan Leigh said the roundabout will be safer for pedestrians.

“As the roundabout goes around, it slows traffic down at that intersection,” Leigh said, “and there’s crosswalks at each leg of that, so as you’re crossing the roundabout you only have to look at one direction of traffic.”

The project includes other safety improvements, such as sidewalks on both sides of the road and improved access to the Auke Bay school and a school crossing.

DOT Manager Greg Lockwood said the speed limit will stay the same.

“We’re not changing the speed limit essentially; we’re designing to the current speed order. The 35-miles an hour that’s posted from Auke Lake to Harbor Drive doesn’t meet the current speed order. So what we’re doing on this project, we’re not changing any speed order we’re just designing the road to be safe at the speed order speed,” Lockwood said.

But much of the public that has already weighed in on the project – and most of those asking the Juneau Assembly to take a stand – believe that’s too fast.

Assembly member Carlton Smith – who used to live near the Auke Bay fire station – says a higher speed limit is not logical.

Map of the Glacier Highway Improvement projects.

Map of the Glacier Highway Improvement projects.          (Map courtesy of CBJ)

“The ferry workers that are going out, the ferry workers that are coming back, the mine workers changing shifts, plus the tour buses, I just don’t see the logic of doing anything more than 20 miles a hour through that entire area,” smith said. “But my perspective is having lived there.”

The highway engineers say it’s a balancing act to satisfy people driving out the road, pedestrians, bicyclists, and local businesses and residents.

State law requires the Department of Transportation consult with municipalities in determining safe speed limits and speed zones, and the Assembly has been lobbied heavily in recent months by people asking them to force the issue.

The Assembly last night directed city staff to draw up a formal resolution requesting a speed study in the Auke Bay corridor.

The project schedule calls for going out for bid on the Auke Bay Corridor improvements, with construction to start in the spring.