Alaska DOT trying new project planning approach for intersection near Juneau’s Fred Meyer

Chuck Collins, facing, discusses the Egan Drive-Yandukin Drive project with DOT environmental engineer Ben Storey at the Nugget Mall in Juneau on Nov. 19, 2019. DOT was holding an open house as part of its planning process for possible improvements to the intersection.

Chuck Collins, right, discusses the Egan Drive-Yandukin Drive project with Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities environmental engineer Ben Storey at the Nugget Mall in Juneau on Tuesday. DOT was holding an open house as part of its planning process for possible improvements to the intersection. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

More than 100 people turned out for an open house that state transportation officials held Tuesday about potential improvements to the intersection near Juneau’s Fred Meyer.

Before most people get off work, 50 people had already signed in at the open house at the Nugget Mall about the intersection of Egan Drive and Yandukin Drive.

Traditional safety and congestion metrics wouldn’t make improving this intersection a high priority. That’s why the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is trying a different approach on this project that relies more heavily on public dialogue.

The process distinctions are pretty in the weeds, but what you should know is this approach gives the public more influence, earlier on.

“That intersection is a choke point. You know, when there’s an accident, things gets shut down. Thousands of people are not going to get by for awhile, right?” said Ben Storey, the Department of Transportation’s Southcoast Region environmental manager. “Can we show that via our dialogue with the public? And really show that there is something wrong with this intersection and it needs attention.”

The department is bouncing the range of intersection improvement ideas off the community to narrow its list down to what has public support. Normally, the department would evaluate options internally and back a specific approach before the public formally weighs in.

The emphasis on public dialogue is also important because, by the numbers, it’s not an exceptionally dangerous or congested intersection. State and federal officials normally weigh those metrics heavily when they rank projects for major funding.

Public input may help get across that this intersection is a major choke point in Juneau’s unique geography, and help its chances of getting funded.

Transportation officials presented several possible improvement options and logged 42 written comments. More are likely to come in the mail on the pre-addressed comment forms they distributed.

Members of the public fill out written comment forms about potential improvements to the Egan Drive-Yandukin Drive intersection as DOT environmental engineer Ben Storey, standing, discusses the project at the Nugget Mall in Juneau on Nov. 19, 2019. DOT was holding an open house as part of its planning process for possible improvements to the intersection.

Members of the public fill out written comment forms about potential improvements to the Egan Drive-Yandukin Drive intersection as DOT environmental engineer Ben Storey, standing, discusses the project at the Nugget Mall in Juneau on Tuesday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

They shared several ideas for reconfiguring the intersection on blown-up, aerial images of the intersection on easels. Public opinion doesn’t appear to be gelling around any one fix.

“A lot of us wonder why the easiest solution isn’t just connecting at the McNugget intersection to Old Glacier Highway, behind Fred Meyer,” said Susan Hickey. “I would close all turns across Egan Expressway at that intersection. I think most of the people making a left-hand turn into Fred Meyer, they could use that Old Glacier Highway entrance.”

Traffic consultants estimated doing this would cost $15 million to $20 million, depending on if the new section of Glacier Highway behind Fred Meyer were one-way or two-way. If it were two-way, the consultants predicted delays in the intersection would be unsatisfactory by traffic engineering benchmarks during rush hours.

Steve Tran was a fan of the option traffic consultants backed, a $34 million overpass with on-ramps and off-ramps. It’s the only option they evaluated that would improve both overall safety and traffic flow near the intersection.

Karen Smith thinks that’s overkill.

“I don’t really think it’s needed,” she said. “I think it would be a much more expensive option than a red light.”

Traffic consultants estimated doing that would cost about $19 million and that during morning rush hour, delays in the intersection would be unsatisfactory.

Dave Hanna had an idea that wasn’t considered in the initial traffic study: Eliminate left turns at the Egan-Yandukin intersection, and rebuild the McDonald’s-Nugget Mall intersection as an interchange with access to Glacier Highway behind the Fred Meyer.

“Do grade separation at the McDonald’s intersection,” he said. “Eliminate that light. … Do an overpass there.”

No one idea appeared to stand out among the attendees, but it did sound like they were generally unhappy with the status quo: unregulated left turns across two lanes of highway traffic.

The department is aiming for a final report from this stage of the planning process next year, sometime between July and September. That would would lead into the design and construction process.

For more information about the Egan and Yandukin intersection project and to share comments, go to eganyandukin.com/onlinemeeting.

Traffic engineers back $34M highway interchange at accident-prone Juneau intersection

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