A unique new design for the intersection in front of the Fort Wainwright main gate is much cheaper than an overpass, puts less pressure on nearby roads and won’t be as complicated to negotiate as it looks judging from a computer rendering, according to the chairman of the borough Planning Commission.
The panel voted 6-2 on Tuesday in favor of granting local approval of the state project. Now it goes to the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly for final approval. Construction is planned for 2022.
“This is an unusual-looking intersection but given the constraints of space, money and time, it solves a lot of problems,” Planning Commission Chairman John Perreault said. “When you look at it from a bird’s eye view … it looks a mess. But from a driver’s perspective, coming through the intersection, it will make sense. Left turns go left. Straight continues straight, and right turns turn right.”
The Gaffney Road, Airport Way, Richardson Highway and Steese Expressway intersection, commonly known as GARS, is the second-busiest intersection in Fairbanks after the Geist Road/Johansen Expressway intersection, with 35,000 vehicles per day, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
GARS is also regularly in the top ten intersections in Fairbanks with the most collisions within a five-year period and has the fifth highest number of total injury crashes, according to the DOT.
The $20 million intersection remodel would reduce rear-end crashes happening when drivers turn left by pushing left-turning motorists to the side, according to Perreault.
Commissioners Shane Koester and Doug Sims cast the no votes.
“Nowhere else in the country has this ever been tried,” Koester said. “People making right turns will have no problems. People going straight shouldn’t have any problems. Making left turns, you are going to run into some lights.”
An overpass would be better, he said, because drivers are familiar with it and know what to do, but an overpass would double the cost of redoing the intersection.
“This costs significantly less,” Perreault said. “They have enough money in the highway safety budget to do this project. They don’t have enough money for an overpass. They would have to go get money or apply for that money, and that puts the whole project in question.”
Building an overpass would also put pressure on nearby intersections and increase those wait times, Perreault said.
An overpass would reportedly require the DOT to close the 10th Avenue connection to the Steese Expressway.
An overpass would also eat up most of the state’s annual $50 million allocation from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program and impact other projects, such as building more passing lanes on highways, according to the DOT.