With a state as big as ours, officials at the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities have a plethora of road projects in progress this summer. If you travel through Alaska’s biggest city, especially south of Dowling Road, one goal seems to be clear: Connect Anchorage.
In an effort to improve east-west traffic flow, the DOT&PF is moving forward with its plan to connect more of Anchorage along the Seward Highway.
Starting this summer, the Seward Highway will be getting a facelift between Dowling and O’Malley roads. Between Dowling and Dimond Boulevard, the highway will widen to three lanes and an overpass will allow East 76th Avenue and Lore Road to connect under the highway. Frontage roads, sidewalks and bike paths will also receive upgrades.
Evidence of this $55.9 million project is obvious to most motorists. But a less-obvious and less-expensive project is happening just south of the Dimond Boulevard onramp to the Seward Highway.
What was once home to a rare chunk of undeveloped land — sitting between the New Seward Highway and Old Seward Highway south of Dimond — will now be a highway exit and onramp that the DOT&PF calls the 92nd Avenue interchange.
“It is part of a master plan to alleviate congestion and improve safety on the Seward Highway,” said Shannon McCarthy, the department’s public information officer.
West 92nd Avenue runs west-east mainly between C Street and where it dead-ends at railroad tracks. Just eastward at the Old Seward Highway, the corresponding street would be the smaller, lesser known Abbott Road. However, with the new interchange, the road connecting the Old Seward to New Seward will be called Scooter Avenue, McCarthy said.
The DOT&PF is working with Bristol Construction on Phase I of the $10 million, federally funded, 92nd Avenue (Scooter Avenue) and Academy Drive project. Bristol was awarded the bid in March 2016. The project started in May 2017 and should be completed by the end of June.
Phase II will raise the Seward Highway as an overpass above 92nd Avenue. Eventually, 92nd Avenue will connect to Academy Drive on the east side of the highway and to Vanguard Drive, which curves northward and meets the larger, more well-known Abbott Road.
According to DOT&PF, this new artery will improves access between the Old Seward Highway/Dimond Boulevard commercial districts and the residential and commercial areas east of the Seward Highway. On the highway, ramps to and from the south will also provide lanes to exit and merge.
“The purpose of the new exit- and on-ramp locations is to better serve the community by providing more access in and out of the Dimond commercial district. The new exit and ramp give the public more options and alleviate traffic on the Dimond interchange,” McCarthy said.
Creating an exit- and on-ramp is no easy task. The first step is for the community to identify a need for one, McCarthy said.
“The need is communicated through the local community council or assembly to the DOT&PF area planner,” she added. “In the case of the 92nd Avenue ramp, the need was identified as part of a larger transportation needs study of the Anchorage Bowl back in the early 2000s to increase safety and capacity along the Seward Highway between 36th Avenue and Rabbit Creek.
“The project then competes for a spot and gets added to the State Transportation Improvements Program.”
Once the project is included in the STIP, McCarthy said, the DOT&PF process generates a more formal purpose and need with significant input from the local community and stakeholders. There’s an appropriate environmental analysis too, which is done to select a preferred alternative to the project’s footprint.
The preferred alternative is designed, advertised and constructed, McCarthy said. An open line of communication with the local community and stakeholders for last-minute concerns helps the finished project address the needs of the competing interests within the community.
In addition to taking public comments, another challenge with a project of this magnitude is heavy traffic. The Seward Highway is Anchorage’s main north-south corridor as well as a national highway system, connecting the city to the Glenn Highway and beyond.
“Having to accommodate traffic on one of the busiest corridors during construction near one of the most active commercial districts was definitely a challenge,” McCarthy said.
But thanks to DOT&PF, Bristol Construction and 27 subcontractors, the Seward Highway is on its way to connecting more of Anchorage.
Kevin Klott is a freelance writer who lives in Anchorage.