DOT seeks public feedback on Midtown Congestion Relief plan

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is implementing a project to address traffic accidents, delays and other issues in midtown Anchorage. The Midtown Congestion Relief project will focus on the area stretching from 20th Avenue to Tudor Road on the Seward Highway corridor.

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Photo credit: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

It’s still in its early stages and DOT is looking to receive input and suggestions from the general public.

“At some of those intersections we have some of the longest traffic delays in the state. We see a higher than average accident rate at a lot of those signals,” Sean Holland, the project manager with DOT, said.

The Seward highway acts as barrier between commercial and residential areas, Holland said. There isn’t a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic since the intersections are not ideal or safe for them.

These delays have led people to seek routes around intersections by cutting through neighborhoods, which can raise issues among residents.

Chantal Belle has lived in Anchorage for about 27 years. She doesn’t travel the Seward corridor often, but when she does, the traffic is interrupted.

“What I notice is that everybody is just roaring along going northbound from south Anchorage and then it screeches to a stop at Tudor,” Belle said. “It’s the most traveled highway that gets you from the south — you know, the panhandle, Kenai, Soldotna — to the valley.”

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Belle supports efforts to ease traffic.

“It forces you to go through all these intersections but I feel like it could be easily bypassed with some sort of off-ramp created to access those other streets, like Tudor [Road], 36th [Avenue], Spenard [Road]… and then maybe bypass downtown altogether,” Belle said. “That would be ideal, but I realize that would be a huge infrastructure plan that might not be feasible given the budget cuts and all of that.”

A public meeting was held on Jan. 30 as an open house for the project. Holland says that it is important to evaluate what people think about the corridor and how it can be improved before moving on to the design stage.

“We have a lot of data and public comments that we’re going to be able to use to put our new concepts together but we’re going to start with a fresh look,” Holland said.

Thomas Dougherty, central region construction engineer with the department, says that the MCR is also part of Alaska’s “highway-to-highway” project, which is intended to connect the Glenn and Seward highways.

“This is just a very small segment of highway-to-highway. The issue is there’s been a need in identifying plans to somehow connect Seward highway and the Glenn highway,” Dougherty said. “This is a smaller increment.”

The highway-to-highway project has been under consideration for several years.

“It proved to be too big as far as a massive scope and a massive cost. We went from that big project and we tried to focus on a smaller project that has worst traffic and the worst of those problems,” Holland said.

The project is estimated to take approximately 10 years, and since it will take time for it to move through public opinion, planning and design, it may be years before it reaches Dougherty’s desk. Depending on funding and other factors, it is still possible the entire project may not progress.

“It may not move forward. It just may be determined that it’s not something we need to do because we’re just in the information-gathering stage,” Dougherty said. “There’s a lot of different things that people want in that area.”

Holland says that there is enough funding for design but not for construction. The MCR project will likely be broken down into smaller projects for logistic and funding purposes.

“We have more money than we need to get through design but we don’t have enough money to build one of those big projects,” Holland said. “We’re saying that we’re looking at getting this whole thing built out in 10 years but that’s probably optimistic. There’s a lot of other needs in the state and we have to compete with all those needs to get funding.”

The DOT will be hosting more public discussions to give Alaskans the chance to provide input. There is also an interactive map on midtowncongestionrelief.com where people can leave comments.

A transportation fair is also being held on Feb. 8 at the Alaska Airlines Center where Holland and other DOT employees will have a table set up for the MCR project.