Commuters find humor in #bridgepocalypse

Gridlocked traffic and closure of southbound Glenn Highway lanes in Eagle River ensued after an 18-wheeler carrying an oversized load hit the South Eagle River overpass on the afternoon of March 21.

An oversize load hit the South Eagle River overpass on March 21, causing closures and delay on the Glenn Highway. The exit and southbound lanes will be closed indefinitely, according to the Department of Transportation and the Anchorage Police Department. Photo credit: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

The Anchorage Police Department closed the inbound lanes and set up detours throughout Eagle River for the Thursday morning commute, but drivers still experienced travel time that was much longer than usual. People took to Facebook, expressing their frustrations and sharing stories, while others made jokes and posted memes. Some took photos of Alaskans sitting on the road sides with signs that read “Almost there!”

Lily O’Mara and Alexis Sammartino made $9 while selling hot cocoa and tea near the south Birchwood exit. Photo credit: Kristina O’Mara

“You’ve got to have a sense of humor about it, otherwise you’re going to get road rage and we don’t need that,” MaryAlice Lovel Larmi, an Eagle River commuter, said. “There were a lot of jokes about how they should’ve dropped porta-potties in the ditches because people were having to stop. Some guy behind me threw a bucket of pee on the ground.”

Larmi made a Facebook post that gained over 1,000 likes and reactions. Larmi wrote that she had moved less than a mile in under an hour to Anchorage from Wasilla and that, “I no longer remember what driving feels like… To my loved ones; goodbye. I belong to the Glenn now.”

Larmi has family in Anchorage and made plans to stay with them until the commute to Eagle River lightened up.

The traffic gridlock, dubbed “Bridgepocalypse” on social media, also impacted UAA students, like Christina Bubna who lives in Chugiak. What normally would have been a 10 to 15 minute drive home to Eagle River ended up taking nearly two hours Thursday morning, making her late for her 10 a.m. class, despite leaving an hour and a half prior.

“It was insane. By the time I got to Eagle River, it was, like 11 [a.m.],” Bubna said. “There was no way I was going to make it to class.”

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She ended up turning around and figured she would email her professors about the huge traffic delay.

Photo credit: Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

Schools in Chugiak and Eagle River were released early Thursday and later scheduled to be closed on Friday. The state also announced that executive branch employees that lived in Eagle River or beyond were not to go to work Friday.

Ben Morton, UAA Dean of Students, said in an email that the Office of the Provost told all college deans that “students, faculty and staff from throughout the UAA community have been impacted.” Notices have also been posted on UAA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Morton also wrote that the university encourages students to communicate with their professors.

Kristina O’Mara, who lives near south Birchwood, had to call in to work after realizing she didn’t have enough gas to make it to Fred Meyer during her commute. She was told not to come in, so her daughter and her neighbor set up a hot cocoa and tea stand after completing an entitlement for their business.

“They took advantage of the opportunity today to start early,” O’Mara said. “The girls have had over 1,000 likes on [Facebook].”

She added that the responses they received were positive and the police had also stopped to say hello.

Tonya and Ron Bell posted on Facebook while stuck in traffic and got positive comments and support as well, but for a different reason.

They were heading into Anchorage to the Alaska Native Medical Center from Wasilla after Tonya, a mom-to-be, thought her water broke. She began having her first contractions, so the hospital advised them to return to the valley and head to Mat-Su Regional Hospital. After turning around, the contractions eased and the couple decided to try getting to Anchorage again.

“Her contractions went from 20 minutes to five minutes in about two minutes, so I knew we weren’t going to make it. If I kept going, that baby was going to born on the side of the road,” Ron Bell said.

They made it to Mat-Su Regional more than two hours after first leaving the house, where Mackenzie Rose Bell was born. Bell said that they had remained “pretty calm” about the situation, but he was surprised about the reactions he received of a photo he posted on Facebook.

“Next thing I knew, I looked at it and it [had] 300 likes, 1,000 likes, 1,500 likes,” Bell said. “People were hitting up my private messenger, you know, news stations, radio stations. It’s pretty cool, actually.”

The estimated cost of the permanent repair for the South Eagle River overpass is $1.8 million, according to the Department of Transportation.

Despite the inconvenience and grievances caused by the Bridgepocalypse, Alaskans managed to grin and bear it, finding ways to make light of the situation. There are now bumper stickers, t-shirts and other merchandise commemorating the epic traffic delay.

As of March 26, southbound lanes of the Glenn Highway have been re-opened.