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Illinois project is done carefully: Reversing traffic has numerous disadvantages

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Posted: Sunday, July 8, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 10:35 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Community perspective

More than 30 years ago, transportation planners saw a need for upgrades to Illinois Street. The road carrying 15,000 cars per day through the heart of downtown Fairbanks included a series of confusing lane changes, substandard intersections, lengthy delays, limited sight distance and inadequate sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists.

Few people dispute the need for Illinois Street improvements, but many dispute how construction should proceed.

The suggestions we hear the most are: 1. Reverse the traffic direction from northbound to southbound. 2. Work extended hours. 3. Limit the number of lanes closed. Briefly, I would like to share some background on each of these topics.

• Reverse the traffic direction: After careful deliberation with emergency services, traffic control experts and project staff, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities reaffirmed that detour traffic should remain northbound. The reasons for this decision are:

— To enable faster response times for emergency services. Police and fire requested that the detour route remain northbound; a southbound detour will increase their response time for calls in north Fairbanks.

— To accommodate the larger volume of traffic. Traffic counts show that more traffic travels northbound over the Cushman Street Bridge than southbound. By providing for the larger volume of traffic, we ease additional traffic on the congested Old Steese, Third Street, Wendell Street Bridge and Peger Road.

— To avoid increasing the vehicle traffic that travels through heavy pedestrian areas. If the detour were to change southbound, all traffic would go over the Cushman Street Bridge and be routed west onto First Avenue. This section of town has many pedestrians who visit Golden Heart Park, restaurants and stores.

— The current detour is safe and predictable. Traffic flows through the detour with few delays, and drivers are familiar with this route; they know what to expect.

• Work extended hours: Contractors direct the hours their crews work, as long as the project is completed by the contract deadline. This is a two-year project; the contractor is balancing the needs of its workers with the schedule of work. Crews are required to stop work by 11 p.m. because of noise restrictions.

This is a complex project with one general contractor, 19 subcontractors and seven utility companies. Approximately 70 people currently work on the Illinois Street project.

Two concerns are safety and employee fatigue; you might have noticed that project staff were off around the Fourth of July holiday. These crews, which have been working at an accelerated pace since April, needed to rest and spend time with family.

• Limit the number of lanes closed: The Illinois Street project is a heavy utility project, replacing sewer and water lines, burying electric and telecommunication lines and installing gas lines. All the work you currently see will be under the roadbed upon completion. This requires that crews follow the utility lines through intersections and across lanes. There is no way to limit the number of lanes impacted when we pull out utility pipes to replace them.

Further complicating this project is the tight construction zone. Within the limited right of way, we need space for crews to work, extensive detour routes for cars and pedestrians and room for heavy equipment to move. If only a few lanes were closed at once, the project would require more than two years to complete.

The mission of DOTPF is to “Get Alaska Moving.” We do this with an emphasis on safety and the efficient movement of people and goods. The Illinois Street project is on schedule. When completed it will be a beautiful addition to the downtown Fairbanks corridor. Traffic will safely travel to destinations, wait times at intersections will be reduced and residents and visitors alike will be able to safely walk and bike.

We recognize construction is inconvenient and disruptive to businesses and the traveling public. We ask for your patience as we complete this project. We listen and consider all suggestions we receive. We do not make decisions lightly, but maintain a focus on safety and efficiency.

If you have any questions about the Illinois Street project, or any DOTPF projects, please do not hesitate to contact me, 451-2210 or steve.titus@alaska.gov.

Steve Titus, P.E. is the Northern Region director for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, a position he has held for five years.

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