The Mendenhall Valley is getting new roundabouts — possibly as soon as next year.
As part of a project intended to improve traffic flow on Mendenhall Loop Road, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is planning to build two new roundabouts at Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and at the access road to Floyd Dryden Middle School.
The City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission approved the project Tuesday by a 6-1 vote. Dan Hickok, whose business DeHart’s is near the Auke Bay roundabout, voted against the project. Work on the roundabouts is expected to start next spring, according to DOT.
Public comments shared with the commission and included in the meeting packet expressed concerns about what the roundabout near Floyd Dryden would mean for children crossing the road.
Responses from CBJ planner Amy Liu and Chris Goins, design group chief for the Southcoast Region for Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, addressed some of those concerns.
They said there would be a crosswalk with pedestrian-activated flashing lights north of the intersection near the school. There will be a similar crossing south of the Stephen Richards Memorial Drive roundabout.
Jack Manning, co-owner of Duck Creek Market located near one of the planned roundabouts, expressed concerns about what construction will mean for his business.
“In general we support the roundabouts primarily because of the safety they bring for Valley residents,” Manning wrote. “We do however, as residents and business owners in the immediate neighborhood, have a major concern regarding the construction traffic plan. As of last discussions with DOT the plan has Stephen Richards closed from Loop for left hand turns, for a period of two months, June and July. As you can imagine this could be devastating to our business, Duck Creek Market, especially in the summer. “
Aurah Landau, public information officer for the Southcoast Region & Alaska Marine Highway System for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the department is aware of the concerns and took them into consideration.
“DOT&PF empathizes with Duck Creek Market and their concerns,” Landau said. “Over the course of more than five one-to-one meetings, and numerous group meetings and phone calls, DOT&PF has explored every possible option for limiting disruptions to Duck Creek Market. There simply isn’t space in the intersection for construction to happen while maintaining all turning movements.”
The project will be phased so that turns from Mendenhall Loop onto Stephen Richards Memorial Drive are only limited for a few months at most, Landau said.
“In fact, it’s possible that the contractor will be able to have all turns open for more of that time — we’ve worked with Duck Creek Market and used hard data to calculate movement restrictions and figured out that we can leave the contractor the option to maintain the turn from Mendenhall Loop onto Stephen Richards throughout construction,” she said.
Also, at least one end of Stephen Richards will be fully open to traffic at all times, Landau said.
While roundabout testimony was tepid, Landau touted the benefits of the circular intersections.
She cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration that show single-lane roundabouts are safer than signaled intersections. The highway administration found roundabouts reduce fatalities by 90 percent, reduce injury crashes by 76 percent, and reduce pedestrian-related crashes by 30-40 percent.
“Roundabouts are relatively new in Juneau, but we’re getting used to them, and they do improve traffic flow, and they’re the safest at-grade intersection there is,” Landau said.
Long and winding road
While the project hasn’t been discussed much lately, this isn’t the first time it’s come up.
The concept was previously discussed during public meetings in November 2013, July 2014 and May 2017, and it’s changed a lot since then.
“This project has gone through several iterations,” Landau said.
In early versions, the project included road improvements as well as three new roundabouts with the third being at Mendenhall Boulevard.
However, Landau said the scope of the project was pared back to better match available funding. The work has not yet been awarded, Landau said, but it has $10.5 million in bond funding.
The project will still maintain the separated bike paths in the area and improve access between the paths and Mendenhall Loop by adding bike ramps, Landau said, and it will also allow for better transit access points.
The project is not directly related to planned intersection work at nearby Riverside and Stephen Richards Memorial drives.
No roundabouts will be involved in that work also planned for 2020, which will bring a traffic signal to the busy four-way intersection.
“They’re different projects,” Landau said. “They have a similar need though — reducing traffic congestion. We are looking at them together for the sake of making sure they don’t happen at the same time, but they’re totally different projects.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.