High gas prices, road work fuel thoughts about other options

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2001

Unrelated stories, but with a common theme: transportation:

Nationwide, the average price of gas, including all grades and taxes is $1.66 a gallon. On the Kenai Peninsula, the price is right around $1.80. Some analysts predict the price in parts of the country will reach $3 a gallon this summer.

Lots of road work is planned for this summer throughout the Kenai Peninsula. Of course, everyone is thrilled about the scheduled improvements, but getting around while the construction is under way won't be fun. Delays can be expected, and it's likely everyone will be modifying their driving plans from time to time.

In a recent visit to Kenai, Congressman Don Young touted the benefits of rail transportation. The idea of extending Alaska Railroad's reach to the central peninsula was a recurring theme at economic development forums held earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Central Area Rural Transit System, popularly known as CARTS, keeps growing, exceeding all expectations for ridership. Three buses equipped with bike racks are scheduled to arrive at the end of June. From offering 1,000 rides during its first three months of operation, CARTS has grown to offering approximately 1,500 rides per month -- and it's only 7 months old.

Each of those stories provides an important look at how we get from Point A to Point B. They also serve as a catalyst to consider the questions: Do we get around in the most efficient ways possible? Are our preferred means of transportation good for us and the environment? Most importantly, are there better ways to get around?

Anyone who has been on the North Road when it's about time for a shift change at the industrial plants knows there can be lots of traffic -- most vehicles carry only their driver -- headed toward the plants. Anyone who has ever tried to turn left across the Sterling Highway in Soldotna in the summertime without a light knows what a challenge that can be. Anyone who has ever tried to get to their destination on foot, regardless of whether there are sidewalks, knows the central peninsula isn't the most pedestrian-friendly place in the world. And anyone who has ever been without a car knows this is no place to be without wheels.

The point is the rising price of gasoline coupled with the summer's road work create the perfect catalyst to examine and, perhaps, change our driving habits. Think of it this way, fewer cars on the road mean shorter delays during the summer construction season, which mean less aggravation on the road. Who knows, fewer cars also might mean road work gets done a lot faster. Sharing a ride with a friend or two could cut one's gas expenses considerably. Buying a punch card and leaving the driving to CARTS could save wear-and-tear on one's automobile, as well as one's nerves during the busy summer season when everything seems to run at a slightly frenetic pace.

CARTS has provided a new way to view public transportation. More than a fleet of vehicles, CARTS is actually a clearinghouse matching people with the rides they need. It's worth noting CARTS can be used by anyone -- it's not just for those who don't have their own set of wheels; it's for anyone who, for whatever reason, doesn't want to or is unable to drive. Plus, CARTS' new buses will allow people to ride their bicycles into Kenai or Soldotna and catch a ride home.

Just as CARTS is providing a new model for mobility, extending rail service to the central peninsula could improve residents' quality of life and enhance visitors' experiences on the peninsula. Wouldn't it be nice for visitors to enjoy the view from a rail car, instead of having to navigate bumper-to-bumper RV traffic and delays caused by road construction? Wouldn't it be nice for residents not to have to deal with so much road traffic and to catch the train to Anchorage during the winter? With fewer cars and the peninsula's improved trail system, bicyclists and pedestrians might not have to fear for their lives. Freight to and from the peninsula also could be moved by rail, lessening traffic.

It's still early in the new millennium. Let's hope we're motivated to solve old problems with new and better solutions. More traffic doesn't necessarily call for a wider road. Maybe the better answer is a switch in how we get from Point A to Point B.

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