Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Road Work Scheduled for East Fairbanks Retail Area
Take a deep breath: Road crews could start work next year to ease traffic congestion in and around east Fairbanks’ retail super-center.
FAIRBANKS — Take a deep breath: Road crews could start work next year to ease traffic congestion in and around east Fairbanks’ retail super-center.
The project will beef up the Bentley Trust Road, which runs behind the Bentley Mall and serves as an often-used — but privately owned — short cut. It also will extend a street inside the shopping center, Helmericks Avenue, to meet College Road north of Illinois Street.
Public transportation managers said the work could start in 2012 and wrap up the following year.
It’s one of a handful of road projects underway along or slated for downtown’s backbone transportation corridor. Crews have already built another downtown bridge across the Chena River and more work is scheduled on Barnette and Cushman streets to the south, and Illinois Street to the north, for the next few years.
“It will make getting around town a lot easier, that’s for sure,” said Steve Titus, who directs the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Fairbanks-based regional offices.
Al Beck, a project manager with the transportation department, said the work on Bentley Trust Road and Helmericks Avenue will cost between $5 million and $7 million. The money is coming from a $15 million slice of voters’ statewide $315 million general obligation bond package approved in 2008.
The retail center — bound by the Johansen and Steese expressways and College Road — is dominated by big box stores, development that public planners say arrived without preparation for the traffic it has created.
Beck said another two projects are on public engineers’ drafting tables, and money from the bond package could cover either or both. He said one would add an eastbound lane to the Johansen Expressway, essentially extending the on-ramp — and transforming it into the new lane — from College Road to the expressway’s next intersection with Hunter Street.
The second would upgrade the Old Steese Highway and focus largely on improving intersections, sidewalks and lane shoulders, Beck said.
Public transportation managers have said solutions to traffic headaches around the retail center were tough to collect, given a mishmash of ownership there — some roads are privately held while others are owned by city or state government. City and state transportation managers used part of the 2008 funding to study the area’s traffic and Beck said they found a few interesting things. Among the conclusions: Intersections in and around the center, measured under a “level of service” formula, aren’t awful — not yet, but they’ll be extremely congested in 20 years unless something gets done now.
There’s still enough undeveloped land in the retail center to accommodate four more Fred Meyer-sized box stores with parking, according to the transportation department.
Beck said while public managers consider steps beyond the Bentley Trust-Helmericks project they’ll need to consider other moving parts. First, the department is simultaneously studying the neighboring north-south highway corridor — the Steese Expressway and, to the south, part of the Richardson Highway — from Badger Road into northeast Fairbanks.
Second, he said, they expect Fairbanks will someday build an interchange (and do away with the traffic signal) at the intersection of the Johansen and Steese expressways but have yet to identify a pot of funding, although the bond package could help them design a solution now.
Third, Beck said, they’re talking about building a new two-mile road into and through the northern half of the retail center. The road would connect the Johansen Expressway to Farmers Loop at McGrath Road, with the goal of easing traffic congestion at the expressways’ intersection.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.