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Traffic revisions end 37-year Cushman bridge obstacle course

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Posted: Saturday, November 3, 2012 12:07 am | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

For 37 years, anyone driving from Barnette Street to Cushman Street on First Avenue was headed the wrong way.

But this element of the downtown traffic plan is to change next week when the short section of First Avenue will be restored to two-way traffic.

It should happen Wednesday if all the pieces fall into place, the transportation department says.

The new traffic lights at First and Cushman have been installed and are operating, though the lights directing eastbound traffic are covered with red tape.

This is the first step in reconfiguring the downtown traffic flow, using the new bridge at Barnette Street, which is set to open to one-way southbound traffic Nov. 12. The Cushman Street bridge will be one-way northbound.

The revisions are to a traffic pattern that has been little changed since the height of the trans-Alaska pipeline boom, when it was much faster to walk across town than drive.

Traffic doubled between 1974 and 1975 and the one-way option was a desperate move to relieve congestion.

On July 6, 1975 at 6 a.m., Barnette Street, Cushman Street and Gaffney Road became one-way streets, along with the segment of First Avenue starting at the Cushman Street Bridge and ending at Barnette.

Then as now, the odd dogleg at First Avenue and Cushman Street, the site of countless accidents over the years, was hard to explain. More than a few people have found it hard to navigate.

The turn sign on the traffic island, set up where the Cushman Street bridge traffic was directed to the west, has been knocked off its moorings more often than the hockey goals at the Carlson Center.

An easy target, it was battered or flattened a couple of hundred times by demolition derby drivers.

When Cushman and Barnette became one-way streets, it took a while for everyone to get the hang of the obstacle course.

More than one driver who had been out of town for a few days ended up going the wrong way on Cushman, Barnette and First Avenue in the space of a few minutes.

Edie Rohde didn’t discover Barnette had turned to one-way southbound until she was driving northbound on it. Then she found herself going against the flow on First Avenue and pulled over.

“Now I was completely confused,” she said in a 1975 letter to the editor. “I wanted to be on the other side of the river headed for home and for one brief moment, it looked as if you couldn’t get there from here.”

The city press release about the traffic changes 37 years ago said the inability to use First Avenue to get to the bridge from Barnette was one of the “major traffic disappointments” of the one-way plan.

The disappointment is almost at an end.


FALL CARNIVAL: It almost seems like winter to me, but whatever the season, there is good reason to drop by North Pole High School 6 to 8 p.m. today for the annual North Pole Fall Community Carnival.

Babes Hudson, president of the PTSA, said there will be a petting zoo, gym activities for all ages, carnival booths, a toy walk and many food booths.

She said the most important thing to know is that the cake walk is to include more than 40 homemade cakes and pies.

Hudson, a expert baker for 40 years, was busy Friday making cakes and pies of all kinds.

She said this is the most important event of the year to raise money for school groups and scholarships. Everyone is invited. Admission is free.

Dermot Cole can be reached at or

459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMdermot.

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