Elmore extension is a gift with glitches

Any UAA student who lives on the south side of Anchorage and commutes to or from school during rush hour has probably cursed the Tudor Road and Lake Otis Parkway intersection at least once (and let’s not kid ourselves; we’ve all done it plenty of times). The Seward Highway is a better alternative only part of the time. Between the two, there just isn’t a good route to get to and from south Anchorage.

The new Elmore Road, opened Dec. 14, unites parts of Abbott Loop Road and Bragaw Street into a single name and one long chunk of pavement, stretching from Providence Drive to Abbott Road. It’s especially great for anyone who lives in that area, but even for those who don’t, the new road has an added bonus: It’s already helped ease the pressure on Lake Otis and Seward, making the commute a little easier for those who still use those routes. Since the area around it isn’t as heavily developed, either, Elmore is generally faster than Lake Otis.

The construction of the new road also included bike lanes on either side, a multiuse trail on one side and even an equestrian trail from Abbott Road to Abbott Loop Community Park.

But as with every multimillion-dollar project – this one cost nearly $40 million – the new Elmore Road has plenty of flaws that officials will have to fix.

Most importantly, a lack of streetlights for long stretches of road means Elmore isn’t truly safe to drive at night – especially during winter, when ice and snow make any road treacherous. Two bridges have plenty of lights, but the road’s curves don’t have any at all. Aside from dangers posed by ice and other drivers when visibility is sharply decreased, moose are a huge concern. Fences to keep the animals out border the road, but if one wanders around the fence and into an unlit portion of the road, it would be nearly impossible to see the dark-brown creature in the dark. And unlike collisions with deer in the Lower 48, neither party is likely to walk away unscathed from a moose-vehicle accident.

Supposedly, the lack of lights in these areas of Elmore is intentional, done to keep it more natural. Of course, if “natural” were really the aim, no one should have built the road in the first place, but since it’s there, safety is paramount.

Fixtures along the road that do exist include benches that will be useful only a short part of the year, and roadside “art,” such as what appear to be large, half-finished shelters for bus stops, without actually having bus-stop signs or logical placement for bus stops. Most of these must have cost significant taxpayer dollars on an already-expensive project and seem to serve little purpose anyway. Talk about budget cuts would be a bit more believable if new projects looked like they’d really been pared down to the true essentials.

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And in fixing one traffic problem, Elmore actually created another. The Tudor-Elmore intersection remained the same, and coming from Providence Drive, it has two left-turn-only lanes, a single straight/right-turn lane and a stoplight system that heavily favors Tudor Road all leftovers from a time when the other side of Tudor, at that intersection, led almost nowhere. Now traffic volume has increased and the intersection can’t deal with it. During rush hour – or any even slightly-busier-than-usual time of day – huge traffic back-ups develop in the one lane that will let drivers take Elmore home, all but eradicating the time saved by taking that route.

Elmore, overall, is a great new road and a gift to many UAA students, but until issues like too few streetlights and an obsolete intersection are properly dealt with, it won’t come close to living up to its potential.