January 2: Voice of The (Anchorage) Times on rail commuter service:

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2001

It will be interesting to see how that Alaska Railroad survey turns out on whether to establish commuter train service between Anchorage and the Valley.

Mat-Su residents who work in Anchorage will be asked what it would take to get them off the highway and onto a rider-friendly railcar.

Outgoing railroad President Bill Sheffield says he envisions comfortable coach cars with coffee service, laptop computer plug-ins and music channels.

There are obvious problems in getting people out of their cars, including finding convenient ways to get them around Anchorage once they get here. But anyone who has driven the Glenn Highway at rush hour recently might be at least a little tempted. Gridlock hasn't arrived on the Glenn yet, but you can see it from there.

State highway planners are working on a way to increase the road's capacity between Gambell and McCarrey Street, which is currently the heart of the problem and causes Valley-bound traffic to jam up most evenings near Merrill Field.

But unless the overall capacity of the Glenn Highway is greatly increased somehow, traffic gridlock of the kind seen in Lower 48 cities seems almost certain.

The area's economy has been in the doldrums in recent years, but Anchorage has continued to grow slowly. The city's population could swell even faster in the years ahead.

Large blocks of open land are very scarce, leaving builders no choice but to go up or out. In the next quarter-century we may see many more high-rises, especially in Downtown Anchorage.

Those who seek open spaces will continue to look toward Mat-Su.

It also seems certain that the Knik Arm eventually will be crossed, either by bridge or by tunnel, opening access to the open spaces beyond Point Mackenzie.

Such crossings have been proposed before and have never proved practical, but new construction techniques seem certain to improve the cost equation eventually.

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