State Weighs Options For Highway To Bypass Wasilla

The state Department of Transportation is considering a highway project that would route the Parks Highway around Wasilla, instead of through it. The small Matanuska – Susitna Borough community has long been at the center of Parks Highway congestion, since vehicles have to pass through traffic signals at local intersections while traveling through the city.

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The small Matanuska – Susitna Borough community of Wasilla has long been at the center of Parks Highway congestion, since vehicles have to pass thorough traffic signals at local intersections while traveling through the city. The state Department Of Transportation is conducting a study to identify alternative routes that could bypass Wasilla and relieve congestion and improve the flow of regional traffic.

Murph O’Brien is a senior transportation planner with HDR Alaska, Inc. the consulting firm heading the study. He presented the latest information on the proposed highway re-route to Wasilla’s city assembly and planning commission this week. O’Brien says, the plan is spurred by projections for Mat Su population growth.

“Forty  years from now,  they are looking at a population of close to 400 thousand people. So, to address that, we need to take a look into the future, as to what the transportation needs are. And, currently, there’s traffic issues on the Parks Highway through downtown Wasilla, and the choices are either to add more lanes through downtown Wasilla, or to look at, you know, is it still possible to go South of Wasilla with a controlled access freeway type facility. “

DOT has received a two million dollar state general fund legislative appropriation to develop a solution to the Parks congestion problem.

The mayor of Wasilla, the Mat Su Borough manager and DOT’s Central Region director are on a steering committee for the Parks Highway Alternative Corridor project. O’Brien says so far, there is no cost estimate for the work

“We have not put a cost estimate to any one of the alternatives. Right now, we are in the process of refining the alternatives. And, right now, we have about six or eight possibilites and we are narrowing that down to some combination of one or two. And once we get to the point that we have a preferred alternative, we will then be able to assess what the cost will be on an order of magnitude basis. “

 The Parks also divides downtown Wasilla right down the middle, and it is another aim of the project to create a more liveable downtown area for Wasillains.

O’Brien says the Parks runs East sto West through Wasilla, and that a preferred alternative route would be located South of the existing downtown corridor, to take thru- traffic pressure off the city. The current corridor would then become the business access to Wasilla.

Allen Kemplen is DOT’s project manager for the Parks Alternative Corridor. He says that the project will be completed in stages

“The strategy that’s been adapted by the steering committee is to move this project forward in pieces, based upon the greatest need first. It’s a big project – it lends itself very well to being broken down into discreet pieces that are relatively affordable. “

The project has been divided into three segments, each with several route choices, which will eventually be narrowed down to one.

Although the full cost of the project is not determined yet, Kemplen says that state money is to be used to fund the bypass

“The best way to move this project forward was to use state funds. And with state funds, it gives us a lot more flexibility, we can do things concurrently, we can accelerate project delivery, and it was deemed appropriate that, if we are going to do a corridor, we have to act fast. “

He says DOT decided against pursuing federal funds, because federal dollars are being stretched thin these days, while the process of getting them is slow and onerous. Both the city of Wasilla and the Mat Su Borough have the project on their legislative priority lists, and will be requesting ten million dollars from this year’s legislature to pay for right of way acquisition for the bypass.

Wasilla mayor Verne Rupright says in two decades the Wasilla area population is expected to exceed that of Anchorage.  He says the alternative Parks route has been in the city’s sights since at least 1999

“And so before it gets much too late to actually be able to put one it, this is more than timely to get it on the grid and get it planned for, because, if the past is any indication of the future, the density is going to be so great that people won’t even come into Wasilla, because they will be right in gridlock. So we need to be able to deal with that right now. “

Rupright said Tuesday night’s presentation gave a preview of what sections of the alternative route DOT would like to combine to avoid impacting residential neighborhoods. He says the question now is to decide on where Parks highway drivers can access the bypass

“And we don’t want that bypass beginning so far in the city that it impacts part of the residences and the commercial district. So, certainly, they have an alternative D on their graph and it is a little further East than that they are proposing at this time. It needs to be further East of the city as it begins its sweep around us, and that I agree with absolutely. “

 Maps of the project segments and the various routes that DOT is considering for the Parks Highway Alternative Corridor can be found on the DOT page on the state of Alaska website.







APTI Reporter-Producer Ellen Lockyer started her radio career in the late 1980s, after a stint at bush Alaska weekly newspapers, the Copper Valley Views and the Cordova Times. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Valdez Public Radio station KCHU needed a reporter, and Ellen picked up the microphone.
Since then, she has literally traveled the length of the state, from Attu to Eagle and from Barrow to Juneau, covering Alaska stories on the ground for the AK show, Alaska News Nightly, the Alaska Morning News and for Anchorage public radio station, KSKA
elockyer (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8446 | About Ellen

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