Road construction season is beginning, and the Fairbanks area will be hit with major projects slated to last most, if not all, of the construction season this summer.
Alaska Department of Transportation Norther Region Spokeswoman Caitlin Frye identified three major road construction projects.
The first, and largest, she said, is Mitchell Expressway resurfacing. The goal is to resurface sections of the Mitchell Expressway that haven’t been updated since original construction in the late 1980s and early ’90s, Frye added.
This project, and the subsequent road closures will begin Monday.
To fully resurface the sections of road, one direction of traffic on part of the highway will be closed at a time, beginning with Richardson Highway-bound traffic.
Those driving toward North Pole from Fairbanks will exit the Mitchell Expressway at Geist Road, where the highway will be closed. Traffic will be detoured down Geist Road and onto the Johansen Expressway, and vehicles can turn onto Peger Road to take Airport Way to the intersection with the Steese Highway ( just before the entrance gate to Fort Wainwright), where drivers can get back onto Mitchell.
Frye estimated that this will last about a month, and drivers should expect some delays as additional traffic is directed onto Geist Road and through town.
“The biggest issue about when that closure goes into place is that the intersection at Geist and Chena Pump is going to be the toughest intersection,” Frye said. “People will experience the most increase in delay at that intersection, likely.”
Once that direction of traffic is resolved, the other direction will close. The road will be closed at the Richardson ramp and vehicles traveling toward Fairbanks from North Pole will be diverted onto the Steese Highway to connect with Airport Way.
Frye noted that the most difficult intersection related with this closure will be the Airport Way and Steese Highway intersection in front of the Fort Wainwright gate.
“It’s already a tough one, and it will certainly get worse with that closure,” Frye said. “But the good news is that drivers will only experience those closures one direction at a time.”
Road workers will completely resurface that section of highway, and upgrade street lights with new LED bulbs and bridges along that stretch of highway. Nine bridges are within that corridor, Frye said. Workers will install a new waterproof membrane on the bridges, new bridge rails and guard rails, and improve sidewalks and curbs.
A new two-way left turn lane will be installed on Badger Road from Dennis Road to Hurst Road.
“This will improve mobility, but the main focus is to improve safety,” Frye said, noting that the stretch of road has a higher than average crash rate, many of which involve vehicles making left turns.
“By creating this center lane for left turns both ways, the goal is to improve safety by getting left-turning traffic out of the way of through traffic,” Frye said.
This work will be done in three segments of 3 miles each, with pilot cars leading vehicles.
Frye said area residents will experience some delays but, with smaller sections being worked on one at a time, DOT hopes to mitigate the impact.
“It’s going to be constructed in a few phases. First we will widen the road opposite the bike path on the North side of Badger,” Frye said. “We will work in the middle stretch first and then work our way to North Pole and then move on the opposite end toward Fairbanks.”
Frye said pilot car operations will begin at about 8:30 each morning to avoid the morning rush. Crews will work late into the evenings.
The DOT is construction a new roundabout at the intersection of Danby and Wembley. Frye identified the work as another safety-oriented project because the crash rate at the intersection is higher than average. The roundabout will, however, also help with mobility in the area, she added.
No roads will be closed except for brief closures at night for paving, but the intersection will be kept open with flaggers on scene.
Frye said she expects the project to last through the entire construction season.
Other smaller projects
Gold Mine Trail Road upgrades
The upgrade will remove the hairpin turn at Gold Mine Trail Road and the Steese Highway, as well as add a right-turn pocket from the Steese Highway onto Gold Mine Trail. Gold Mine Trail will be closed at the Steese, and traffic will be diverted to Gilmore Trail to access the Steese Highway during the estimated two-week closure that began Friday.
University Avenue widening and rehabilitation
University Avenue will be widened from College Road to the Mitchell Expressway. This is a long-form project that will ultimately take about five years to complete. Drivers can expect lane closures but not full road or intersection closures this summer, when work will include permanent striping on University Avenue, landscaping and lighting.
Gillam Way rehabilitation
This project to repave, build new and improve existing sidewalks, improve drainage and upgrade shoulders for bicycle use, is estimated to begin in June. The work will involve some closures. But Frye noted that DOT will have more information as the time draws closer.
Road construction during the 2019 summer season will cost more than $90 million, 90% of which is covered through federal funding.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544.