News-Miner opinion: Let’s say you have a slow, busy intersection made only slower by left-turning traffic. Let’s say it can be dangerous, too, with the fifth-highest number of injury crashes in the city. Let’s say you do not want to spend most of the state’s annual federal highway safety money on one project. What do you do?
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities says a “Continuous Flow Intersection Median U-Turn” is the answer.
The department says it aims to improve safety and ease congestion and capacity problems at the Gaffney Road, Airport Way, Richardson Highway and Steese Expressway intersection near the Fort Wainwright Gate. It is the second-busiest intersection in Fairbanks and the scene of 100 crashes in five years, the DOT says. It sees 35,000 vehicles a day.
Shades of roundabout battles past, the folks at DOT might as well have tossed a bomb in the punch bowl. The announcement immediately was met with a chorus of everything from derision to anger to outright hostility. Many, it turns out, do not much like the idea of change.
“And I thought the roundabouts on Steese and Chena Hot Springs Road were controversial,” one letter writer to the News-Miner said. “Silly me ... “
“When the power goes out this thing will be chaos,” said another.
“C’mon people, simplicity is important. Go with the danged overpass and/or cloverleaf,” said a third. “Do it right.”
While it looks complicated, a continuous flow intersection removes the conflict between left-turning vehicles and oncoming traffic, the Federal Highway Administration says. They are in place in several locations across the nation and in other countries. They seem to operate without problem.
Construction is slated to begin next year and the project will be 90% federally funded with a 10% state match. The construction price tag is between $10 million and $15 million. This design was selected because building an overpass for a new interchange would cost about $40 million, or about 80% of all the money Alaska gets annually from the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program to improve safety on Alaska’s roads.
Construction is tentatively scheduled for 2022.
Any change at that intersection that would speed things up safely must be an improvement and we already have mastered the roundabout. Kinda. Surely, we can negotiate an intersection “Continuous Flow Intersection Median U-Turn.” With some good signage and easily visible directions it should be a piece of cake. Right?
More information and videos are available at a virtual open house website at www.garsreconstructiononline.com.