Juneau Assembly declines to get involved in Auke Bay speed limit issue

Cars heading approach the curve around DeHart’s as seen from Mendenhall Loop Road.

The Juneau Assembly this week decided not to request lower speed limits as part of an Alaska Department of Transportation project in the Auke Bay area.

That means the section of Glacier Highway from Auke Lake to the intersection with Back Loop Road will continue to be designed for a 40 mile per hour speed limit. However, DOT may consider other changes to encourage slower traffic in the area just north of the Auke Bay business district.

DOT Southeast Region Director Al Clough told the Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole Monday night that it wouldn’t make sense to build a road that was either under or over design.

“If we were going to lower the speed limits we would readjust the road footprint accordingly to be the appropriate design standard for those speeds,” Clough said. “That would be a pretty significant change in the project as it’s already been scoped, as it’s been designed, and as it’s gone out to the public.”

Clough estimated up to a year delay if the project had to be redesigned and put out for further public review.

Pressure from the public was the main reason the Juneau Assembly asked CBJ staff in September to take a look at the project and recommend whether the city should get involved.

Glacier Highway from Auke Lake to Back Loop Road is currently posted at 35 miles per hour. Engineering Director Rorie Watt said an increase to 40 would be acceptable, because of the state’s plan to straighten the curve at the Auke Bay Laboratory.

“From our meeting with Planning, Engineering and Manager’s staff, we viewed their proposed improvements in that corridor as pretty good solutions,” Watt said.

The speed limit in the business district is also 35 miles per hour, except when kids from Auke Bay Elementary School are in the area. Then it’s a 20 mile per hour school zone. At about Waydelich Creek, it picks back up to 45 miles per hour.

Clough said a DOT study from two and half weeks ago showed people driving about the speed limit or little a faster through the entire area.

“Essentially right now people are driving 35 to 40 around the curve and within spitting distance of 35 through past the school and such, except when the school zone’s active,” he said.

Clough and Watt said it would be easier to make changes to the project north of the Auke Bay business district. One suggestion was to put a traffic island in the middle of the road to encourage drivers to slow down.

Clough said DOT would keep exploring its options, but offered no promises.

“We’re continuing to look at other traffic island or pedestrian island opportunities,” Clough said. “But with the driveways and such it’s not looking good to add too many more. But we’ll continue to look at that and some other potential changes.”

While some Assembly members still expressed frustration about the speed limits, there was reluctance to slow the process down.

The next step for the project is to go to the city’s Planning Commission for permits, and Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker said that’s the appropriate place to deal with the issue.

[quote]”We have city staff and DOT that can work together through the Planning Commission process to do whatever is necessary to hammer out the details. I do not believe this body needs to take official action and potentially cause delay.”[/quote]

Clough said the first phase of the project – a roundabout at Glacier Highway and Back Loop Road – is expected to break ground next spring. Construction on the area between Auke Lake and the intersection had been expected next summer, but Clough said it might be postponed by a few months due to what he called “other issues” unrelated to the speed limit discussion.

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