FAIRBANKS — After so many decades, it seems hardly imaginable that the rebuilt Illinois Street and new bridge across the Chena River will open to full traffic on Monday next week. This is a dream come true for many, even if it was preceded by one nightmarish summer of dirt work.
The road is attractively designed and likely will work quite well. The design had a few unfortunate consequences for businesses along the route, but the straightened lanes, better drainage, good lighting and broad sidewalks all will make travel safer and more pleasant.
Illinois Street will open to two-way traffic shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday. (Traffic on the new bridge will be one-way southbound.)
To mark the moment, a procession of antique cars will carry a contingent of veterans along the route. They’ll start at the Catholic schools near the north end of the project, travel southward down Illinois Street and cross the new Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Chena River.
Then they’ll turn eastward on First Avenue — a move that has been prohibited for the past 37 years — and proceed to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center for a short commemorative program. (Organizers of the program would like a note by today from anyone planning to attend. Send an email to Hannah Blankenship at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, email@example.com.)
Work on the $23.6 million project, led by H.C. Contractors of North Pole, accelerated this fall with the addition of some extra money from DOT, but several features remain to be finished next year. Completion of the Noyes Slough bridge will be the biggest piece. Pilings were driven before freeze-up this year, but the new bridge still needs a surface. More landscaping and paths will be added next summer as well.
Starting Monday, though, Fairbanksans should be able to get a good feel for how well this long-awaited road through the center of our community performs. It’s looking good so far.