A dump truck empties its payload at a construction site on Mendenhall Loop Road and Steven Richards Memorial Drive where the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is building a roundabout on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

A dump truck empties its payload at a construction site on Mendenhall Loop Road and Steven Richards Memorial Drive where the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is building a roundabout on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Life in the fast lane: DOT projects in Juneau ahead of schedule

Lack of tourist traffic have allowed for a bit of speeding.

While no one would call the coronavirus epidemic a good thing, there are certain advantages Juneau’s lack of tourist traffic offers, said DOT personnel.

“It’s way ahead of where we intended to be,” said DOT construction project manager Catherine Wilkins of ongoing roadwork in a phone interview. “We are way ahead of where we planned to be. That is the silver lining of the pandemic. We had such reduced traffic counts that we decided to take advantage and accelerate the construction schedule.”

Both of the roundabouts under construction in the Mendenhall Valley and the Egan Drive project are scheduled to wrap up on or before the end of the construction season, Wilkins said.

“We are planning on having the bulk of the work done by Sept. 30,” Wilkins said. “There are some odds and ends that might need to get finished next year, but motorists will likely not notice.”

DOT made the call to move forward briskly when it became apparent back in March that the tourist season would be truncated, Wilkins said.

“This year was going to be harder,” Wilkins said. “When we heard at the beginning of March that the season was delayed. We said, July 15, we’re going to be back to normal, so we hit it hard while we could.”

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With the lack of buses, DOT decided to attack both roundabouts in addition to the Egan Drive project simultaneously to minimize the time it would take to restore traffic to the new normal.

“Because there’s so little traffic this year, we thought, go for it, rip the Band-Aid off,” Wilkins said. “We had work going on three places at the same time, which we normally would not have been ambitious enough to.”

Some of the work remaining until next year includes resurfacing the Gold Creek Bridge, Wilkins said. Specialists from out of town are required for that brand of work, and quarantine regulations make it more practical to push it to next year, Wilkins said.

“We have to remove the bridge in a special way with a special machine,” Wilkins said. “We will do that next year. Bottom line, it’ll be fairly quick, about two to three weeks.”

With that out of the way, there are mostly only minor details to iron out for all of the work sites, Wilkins said.

“It’ll be little things that will not be noticeable to most motorists,” Wilkins said. “Permanent paint. The maintenance folks prefer to use a much higher quality paint which doesn’t require reapplication every year, but is more complicated to put down. “

Big things coming

There are a number of projects on the horizon that will improve the roads around Juneau as well, said Sam Dapcevich, DOT spokesperson.

“The road past city hall towards Thane in crappy shape,” Wilkins said. “It is on there, but it’s a few years out. So we’re going to do a preventative maintenance plan. It’ll be really good. It’s not just patching potholes. We’re gonna take it from city hall to the tram.”

That stretch of road could be particularly inconvenient, especially in tourist season, but it needs to be done during the winter when the weather permits efficient road construction.

“That work, because it’s a heavily traveled corridor that doesn’t have a detour, will most likely have to be at night,” Wilkins said.”We’re hoping to get on it early in the season before tourist season gets up in high gear.”

Work is also lined up for repaving the roundabout coming off the Douglas Bridge, as well as wear and tear near the metal joints in the bridge itself, which promises to be a difficult evolution, Wilkins said. Happily, the bridge itself, which was recently involved, is in good condition.

“There was just surface damage, nothing structural,” Dapcevich said. “They crawled through the inside of the bridge. It was pretty minor. When you saw the video, it looks dramatic, but when they examined the bridge, it was pretty superficial.”

There’s also scheduled to be a roundabout installed at the intersection of Glacier Highway and Renninger Street, and a traffic light installed at the intersection of Davis Street. A sidewalk will also be installed on Glacier Avenue on the side currently lacking one.

“We will add a traffic signal at Davis Avenue. It can be dodgy at certain times of day,” Wilkins said. “We also have projects coming up in Ketchikan, Prince of Wales and Sitka next year.”

DOT also recently shored up an embankment on Douglas Highway that was badly eroded in last year’s mudslides, Dapcevich said, adding 339 tons of stone to reinforce the hillside.

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