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Working on the railroad; Plans focus on transportation issues as well as economic ones

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2003

ANCHORAGE No one can accuse Jim Kubitz of not having vision.

For the past four years, the vice president of real estate for the Alaska Railroad Corp. has been working on the development of a master plan for the Ship Creek area that revolves around an intermodal transportation facility.

"This is our one and only attempt at what would be a logo for us for life," said Kubitz.

The plans for the new facility address the inadequacy of the current train depot, such as its limitations for handling increased passenger services. The new depot would be capable of servicing five trains at a time and could handle the railroad's 3-percent annual projected growth over the next 30 years.

The main railroad project includes three components: a new depot behind the current facility that would cross the tracks, a sky bridge connecting the depot with downtown Anchorage and a parking garage.

The goal is for the intermodal center to serve as a transportation hub connecting rail, bus service, pedestrian and bicycle traffic and

private vehicles.

In devising the plan, Kubitz and his team have taken into consideration several development possibilities for Anchorage including a new civic and convention center, ferry service between Ship Creek and Point McKenzie, and increased cruise ship visits to Anchorage.

The intermodal center would work in conjunction with any of these developments. The center also would accommodate commuter rail service between Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley, if that plan comes to fruition.

 

An artist's conception of the proposed Intermodal Station included in the master plan for development of the Alaska Railroad depot in Anchorage, Alaska. The plans for the new facility include a new depot capable of servicing five trains at a time to accommodate the railroad's projected three-percent annual growth in the next 30 years.

AP Photo/Alaska Railroad Corporation

"We knew it was ahead of its time but we went for it anyway," said Kubitz.

While the railroad's project represents a large part of the master plan, it does not complete the vision for Ship Creek. The railroad is working in conjunction with the Municipality of Anchorage to provide a broad redevelopment of the area.

"Certainly the intermodal center adds to the versatility of the economy,'" said Jennifer Payne, special assistant to the mayor. "It's a great project for Anchorage."

One of the key components to developing the waterfront is to connect downtown Anchorage with Ship Creek. One way to accomplish that is to construct a covered, heated sidewalk between the two areas. The proposed route for the walkway is E Street.

The plan also calls for pedestrian amenities, some of which have been completed or are currently in progress. The pedestrian projects include upgraded sidewalks and street lighting, a plaza on the corner of C Street and Ship Creek Avenue, fencing and landscaping.

The plaza, completed last summer, will begin hosting vendors this month.

Railroad officials first initiated the master plan in 1998; it was approved a year later. They then hired Land Design North to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA study. The study was finalized in the spring of 2003 and is expected to be approved in September. The railroad is currently involved in presenting the proposal to area assemblies and city agencies, including mayor-elect Mark Begich.

While the company has addressed a few environmental concerns from citizens, comments have been mostly positive, according to Pat Flynn, spokes-person for the railroad. He said a common response is "when can you start."

One concern is that the parking garage, which would be built next to the bluff, would jeopardize the stability of the landscape. On the contrary, the garage could serve to strengthen the area, acting as a buttress, said Kubitz.

The project cost for the railroad's portion of the plan is $44 million, nearly 91 percent of which will be funded by the federal government; the railroad will fund the remainder. The railroad has already received about $15 million toward the project since 1999 with $11.5 million designated to concept and design. The rest of the budget is awaiting congressional approval, according to the railroad's "Program of Projects" document outlining the plan.

The railroad will find out in October whether it will receive the entire budget or a portion of it this year, Kubitz said. That will determine how the project construction proceeds.

If it receives only a portion of the money this year, construction will likely happen in phases, with the sky bridge and track work being accomplished in phase I, Flynn said.

Construction could begin next year and Kubitz estimates it will take approximately three years to complete.

Other aspects of the plan, such as lighting and sidewalk improvements, will be funded by the Municipality of Anchorage.

Christina Sessions is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.



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