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Bypass the Parks Highway?

By Heather Hintze 9:18 PM December 12, 2013

Transportation officials say a road around Wasilla is needed to meet traffic demands

WASILLA - The Mat-Su Borough is getting too big for the Parks Highway to handle the traffic. More than 30,000 cars drive the road every day.

That’s why the state hired a company to look at the possibility of building a bypass to ease congestion.

“I’ve been a resident for 35 years now and I’ve seen the Parks Highway go from a quiet, two-lane road to a very crowded, four-lane freeway,” said Senior Transportation Planner Murph O’Brien.

His job is to look at alternative ways around Wasilla. Right now there are several proposed routes for a bypass south of town.

The Mat-Su Borough is expected to hit 400,000 residents in the next 50 years, O’Brien said.

“With the amount of growth that’s going on within the borough and within the city of Wasilla, there’s a need to look towards the future as to how to improve traffic through Wasilla,” he said.

Stores along the road aren’t sold on the idea yet. The Great Alaska Pizza Company relies on stop lights to bring in business.

“They’ve got to drive by here so that definitely helps,” said Benjamin Phillips, general manager. “And people who live in Anchorage, they can call us before they come through town. They call us to get it ready, then swing by and pick it up on their way through. It’s nice having that traffic there.”

Cold Stone Creamery is in the Creekside Plaza along the highway. Manager Hope Miller sees the congestion problem every day.

“Getting off work at 5 or 6 o’clock, trying to pull out of work can take a half an hour to get out because people aren’t exactly the nicest about letting you out,” Miller said.

However, the ice cream shop also depends on people driving through town.

“I think it would be really nice for rush hour, but as for being a business that is right here where a lot of out-of-towners pass by and see us and get excited, I’d be really worried about losing business,” she said.

The city and state have looked at alternative routes several times in the past three decades, O’Brien said, and they can’t let this project slip by again.

“Something needs to be done to the Parks Highway,” he said. “That either needs to be widened to add lanes through Wasilla which would have a detrimental impact to the land use and businesses in Wasilla. Or you go south and create a new road.”

A new road would make the commute faster for drivers by detouring around the dozen stoplights.

Part of the state’s $2 million economic analysis will look at the property values and wetlands in the area. The study will also determine how much the project could cost and if it’s worth it. It should be completed by the end of January 2014, O’Brien said.

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