The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to move ahead with its double-roundabout project at the intersection of Chena Hot Springs Road and the Steese Highway. The department intends to begin construction in the summer of 2020. When completed, there will be a roundabout on Chena Hot Springs Road on each side of the Steese overpass. The roundabout on the east side of the overpass will have a bypass lane for people who are traveling north on the Steese Highway and turning eastbound onto Chena Hot Springs Road.
The addition of roundabouts at this intersection is a welcome improvement. Studies in the Interior and the U.S. show roundabouts have improved the flow of traffic and reduced collisions.
Poor visibility at the intersection, particularly when turning left from Chena Hot Springs Road to merge southbound onto the Steese Highway, make the intersection more dangerous than the average intersection. The high speed of highway driving, overpass and long sections of frost-heaved roadway contribute to the danger of the intersection.
You don’t have to look further than North Pole to see how roundabouts can positively impact a community. There have been zero crash-related injuries at the Badger Road and Richardson Highway roundabouts since they were completed about 10 years ago, according to DOT. The overall number of crashes was reduced by 68 percent, too. On a national level, intersections converted to roundabouts saw a 90 percent reduction in collision fatalities and a 76 percent reduction in injuries.
Drivers need to stop far less at roundabouts than stoplights or signs, which means the intersection will be less congested during peak traffic hours. DOT project manager Carl Heim expects the number of drivers will increase in the coming years when the F-35 fighter jets arrive at Eielson Air Force Base, bringing with them a couple thousand airmen, their families and government contractors.
Despite roundabouts’ proven ability to tame traffic, the Chena Hot Springs Road project has received lots of criticism. In 2016, a couple of public information meetings were held; opposition was intense, and two state legislators got involved. Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, tried to prevent the project by writing language into the 2016 budget that would prohibit state money from being spent on it.
Since then, DOT officials have done a fair amount of public-relations work to sway public opinion. Mr. Heim, who is managing the project, said a contractor was hired to conduct phone surveys to help them address people’s concerns. Mr. Heim believes most people now support the project.
Though the state is in the midst of a financial crisis, DOT won’t have to worry about project funding being slashed in the legislative session. The department will pay for the roundabouts with federal Highway Safety Improvement Program money, about $5 million, that DOT is required to spend on dangerous intersections.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Jan. 24