News from Patrick Flynn

MTP done (for now)

I’ve been so immersed in the work related to finalizing Anchorage’s new Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), which replaces the former Long Range Transportation Plan, that it took a question from a Fairview friend to remind me I hadn’t provided a recent update.  Oops!  So, operating on the better-late-than-never theory, here’s what’s up.

Local work on the 2035 MTP is complete.  The final step is submitting the plan to the Federal Highway Administration for their approval, and I’d be surprised if they do anything beyond saying, “yup, that’s an MTP, please do a couple things differently when you write your next one in a few years.”  That said, what we submitted is different than what was originally proposed in several ways.

First off, there were some definition adjustments to better reflect the blending of the Anchorage Bowl and Chugiak-Eagle River LRTPs.  While we used to have distinct LRTP’s for each area the new MTP combines them.  Because of the differences between the two areas, the latter being more rural in nature, we did some fine-tuning to allow for slightly different approaches based on population densities.  For example, most roads in Anchorage should have sidewalks on both sides of the street while one in Birchwood might be fine with a sidewalk on one side of the street.

Second, at my request the Assembly endorsed retaining a “firewall” between funding for the Knik Arm Crossing and other MTP projects.  What that means is that the limited dollars programmed for funding local construction projects can’t be diverted to pay for a bridge project that, if it ever moves forward, will definitely need waaayy more money.  The firewall essentially tells KABATA, “don’t bother coming here with your tin cup.”  Unfortunately, at the behest of the mayor and some of my fellow AMATS Policy Committee members, the Assembly’s and Technical Advisory Committee’s suggestions for structuring the firewall were weakened a bit but, on the whole, it’s a lot better situation than we started with (where one could easily envision KABATA bureaucrats rubbing their palms with glee at the prospect of access to another pool of funds to plunder).

Third, the Highway-to-Highway project is, sort of, saved.  Readers of previous posts on the MTP may recall that this process brought to light the fact that the Parnell administration had, very quietly, killed the EIS necessary to construct a connection between the Glenn and Seward highways.  (In fact, KABATA is now housed in the old H2H project office!)  But the pieces necessary to complete H2H are, in fact, scattered throughout the new MTP, though not structured in the manner I’d prefer.  Once again, however, the final product is better than where we started.  Here’s why.

As originally proposed the draft MTP split H2H into three parts:

  1. Project 104 (short-term list, 2011 – 2023) would add an interchange at 36th Avenue and the Seward Highway at an estimated cost of $108M.
  2. Project 114 (also on the short term list) would essentially extend the Seward Highway freeway from 36th north to Chester Creek, including interchanges at Northern Lights & Benson, at an estimated cost of $178M.
  3. Project 201 (long term list, 2024-2035) would be a freeway connection from the terminus of the aforementioned projects to the Glenn Highway at Airport Heights, at an estimated cost of $595M.

And, frankly, that really ticked me off.  Basically the plan was to dump a ton of high-speed traffic into Fairview without a realistic idea of how to handle it.  I was not impressed and, while it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit, became rather agitated in expressing my concerns to the myriad of folks involved in this process.  Eventually, however, I found a semi-solution, imperfect though it may be.

The result broke project 201 into four pieces:

  • 201A – develop an EIS for the three segments described below.  This is the essential planning process that will allow the projects below to proceed ($10M), and it’s on the short-term list.
  • 201B – an interchange at Airport Heights Drive and the Glenn Highway ($70M), on the long-term list.
  • 201C –  the route from Airport Heights to the Ingra/Gambell corridor ($200M), also on the long-term list.  This may be upgrades to the existing 5th & 6th Avenue route, diverting to 3rd Avenue or something else (the latter being very unlikely).
  • 201D – the cut-and-cover project from Chester Creek to the 5th/6th Avenue corridor, and also on the long-term list, would put high-speed traffic below grade and place surface streets above, thereby reconnecting east and west Fairview ($325M).

As noted, this is not an ideal solution but it does take some useful steps.  Keeping in mind that the MTP will be updated again in about four years and most of the projects on the short-term list will not be completed, or even started, in that time it achieves some important goals.

By splitting the project into more manageable pieces, each becomes more achievable. And because the planning piece is in the short-term list, we can advocate for getting it done sooner than later so neighborhoods will have information that allows for thoughtful investments of their time and energy.

All that means that now the real work begins.  We need to remain vigilant in moving 201A to the top of the short-term list, whether that mean finding state or federal dollars to get it done.  When the next MTP revision occurs, in about three years, we need to continue the conversation about the order in which remaining pieces of the H2H project should proceed.  Those in transportation agencies will likely propose working from the outside in, meaning the Fairview cut-and-cover would be the last piece constructed.  I think it makes more sense to build from the inside out, as the traveling public will see how well traffic can move and support the other pieces (think about the Minnesota bypass, which whisked travelers from downtown to mid-town back in the 70’s but terminated at Dimond Boulevard until the 80’s), and we can continue improvements to a terrific neighborhood.

And, of course, we need to ensure that once KABATA burns through the considerable public dollars already allocated to them, they don’t come back and again try to take those available to AMATS…



This contribution was made on Saturday, 12. May 2012 at 08:16 and was published under the category Transportation. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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