The intersection of Riverside Drive and Stephen Richards Drive in the Mendenhall Valley on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The intersection of Riverside Drive and Stephen Richards Drive in the Mendenhall Valley on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Valley intersection may get redesign

Congestion, emissions prompt look at Stephen Richards and Riverside Drives

A Mendenhall Valley intersection may be getting a redesign to cut down on traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

The intersection at Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and Riverside Drive is currently an all-way stop. The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Southcoast Region is working on solutions that may include a roundabout or enhanced traffic signals. DOT/PF is also soliciting other ideas from public and agency comments, and neighborhood association feedback.

Aurah Landau, DOT/PF Southcoast Region spokeswoman, said the department has been studying traffic patterns in the Valley and found that there was a lot of congestion at that intersection. The DOT/PF contracted with Kinney Engineering, LLC., of Anchorage, to analyze the intersection and develop traffic control alternatives to reduce congestion in the area.

“Right now we are quantifying the congestion and figuring out just how bad it really is,” Landau said in a phone interview with the Empire Tuesday. “The next step is figuring out potential ways to solve the congestion. The goal is to improve traffic flow.”

Primary findings of the report presented to the DOT/PF showed lower crash rates since stop signs were installed in 2008 but there have been excessive delays during morning and evening peak-hour commutes. Nearly one-quarter of daily traffic travels through the intersection during those peak times, Landau said. According to the findings, vehicles wait for an average of about 90 seconds during morning commutes from 7:15-8:15 a.m. and evening peak-hour commutes from 5-6 p.m. If no change is made, Landau said vehicles are predicted to wait 112 seconds in the morning and more than two-and-half minutes in the evening by 2040. Landau added that the primary finding also found that traffic could back up as much as a one-quarter mile.

“We know there is a problem and we want to get ahead of it,” Landau said.

Landau added that the DOT/PF has asked Kinney Engineering for relevant comparable intersection delay times and is waiting on the results.

With the cars idling for long periods of time, Landau said, there is also the concern of vehicle emissions.

“(DOT/PF) know that vehicle emissions can be an issue and want to minimize or prevent it when we’re considering infrastructure changes,” Landau said.

During the project phase, the DOT/PF will measure and quantify traffic problems at the intersection, develop and evaluate traffic options for addressing the problems and assess the impacts associated with various intersection redesign options. The DOT/PF will present these options to the CBJ and public. The public will have 30 days to provide feedback on the proposed options.

The Federal Highway Administration is paying for approximately 91 percent of the potential project, Landau said. DOT will be using funding from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. These funds are prioritized by the state for communities and areas out of attainment for ozone, carbon monoxide and particulate matter and can only be used for transportation matters. The City and Borough of Juneau, which is also involved in the project, is providing the remainder of the funding for the project. The cost has not yet been determined because the exact project has not been defined.

Because the Mendenhall Valley is an air quality special area, City Manager Rorie Watt said DOT took in account pollutants from the idling cars at the intersection and wanted to take action on city property. Watt said the project will still go through the city before it is finalized.

If everything goes as planned, Landau said the project, if there is one, should start in 2020.

The public’s first opportunity to comment will be held from 5-7 p.m. July 11 at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. At the open house, the project team will present ideas and listen to input about the project. After the open house, the project team will take the input and add it into a final design concept. The public will be invited to second open house to learn about revised plan options.