Construction of a new intersection at the nexus of Airport Way, the Steese Expressway and the Richardson Highway at the entrance of Fort Wainwright will begin next year, according to officials with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The Borough Assembly last week essentially took no position on the project, which has been criticized for having an unusual, complicated design.
No official position by the assembly amounts to tacit approval, according to Mindy O’Neall, presiding officer of the assembly, and the state can move forward on the $20 million project, which is known as GARS, shorthand for the Gaffney Road, Airport Way, Richardson Highway and Steese Expressway project.
A computer rendering shows as many as six lanes across one road with various forks and turn offs. The design is like no other intersection in the country, according to a report by Fairbanks North Star Borough transportation planner Don Galligan.
Supporters say it’s way cheaper than an overpass and the design is not as complicated as it looks. The goal is to reduce congestion and improve safety.
Carl Heim, engineering manager for the DOT, said he thinks people will like it because of landscaping elements that are planned and because it will be faster to move through the intersection once the overhaul is complete.
“People are sometimes hesitant to see things changed,” Heim said. “It looks different from the air but when you’re in it, it’s pretty much just business as usual.”
Construction will span two years. The intersection will remain open to traffic except for a portion of the Steese Expressway going north from Airport Way will be closed for about a month or so next summer, Heim said.
GARS is the second-busiest intersection in Fairbanks after the Geist Road/Johansen Expressway intersection, with 35,000 vehicles per day, according to the DOT.
Building an overpass would cost twice as much money and would put pressure on other nearby parts of the transportation network, according to Heim.
The engineering manger said the DOT hired a snowplowing expert to help plan for snow removal at the new intersection.
“It’s going to get the best service out of any intersection in town,” Heim said.
The wait time to get through the GARS intersection will be reduced by about five minutes once the new intersection is complete, according to Heim.