- What is the history of this project?
- What is happening now?
- Why is this being done now?
- Who benefits from this project?
- What kind of highway would it be?
- Has the location of the road been determined?
- Did the Project Team consider routes north of the Parks Highway?
- How much money is currently available for the project? What is being done?
- What is the difference between a state and federally funded project?
- What is the schedule for this project?
- When will the final alignment be determined?
- When will construction begin?
- How many potential homes need to be acquired to build the recommended corridor and how will homeowners be compensated for right-of-way (ROW) acquisitions?
- What kind of noise barriers will be used for homes along or near the potential route?
- Why is the project team involving the public at this stage of the process?
- What public involvement opportunities will there be?
1. What is the history of this project?
The possibility of bypassing Wasilla by routing the Parks Highway around Wasilla has been a controversial topic for a number of years. Discussion of an alternative highway corridor was met with stiff resistance in the 1970’s and again in the early 1990’s. The community and local businesses feared adverse economic impacts from the highway bypassing Wasilla. However, population and traffic have increased significantly in and around Wasilla since the 1990’s, causing congestion, business and traffic safety concerns.
Interest in identifying and constructing an alternative Parks Highway Corridor around Wasilla has been growing in recent years (See Table). The City of Wasilla, its business community and regional freight haulers recognize the benefits of reducing traffic through Wasilla by providing an alternative around Wasilla’s commercial core and downtown.
Past Studies of an Alternative Corridor
Parks Highway Location Study
Parks Highway: Glenn Highway to Lucas Rd Environmental Assessment (ADOT&PF)
Knik-Fairview Comprehensive Plan (MSB)
Wasilla ARRC Relocation Study (City of Wasilla - rail only)
Wasilla Realignment Study (ARRC - rail only)
OS&HP: Short Range Recommendations through 2015 (City of Wasilla)
Parks Highway Visioning Document (ADOT&PF)
Mat-Su Long Range Transportation Plan (MSB)
ADOT&PF Central Region received a $2 million legislative appropriation to advance a transportation solution to the congested Parks Highway corridor between Big Lake and the Glenn Highway junction. The project started as a partnership between the Alaska Railroad (ARRC), City of Wasilla, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the ADOT&PF. The original scope was for a single multi-modal (rail, transit and road) corridor. However, the pace of sub-division activity and the more mature development of potential railroad alignments resulted in the ARRC dropping out of the agreement. The ARRC intends to proceed separately on development of an alternative corridor and/or other improvements to meet their needs.
The Consultant currently under contract with ADOT&PF has completed Phase I of a multi-phase process. Phase I consisted of:
- Review of all previous analytical efforts exploring the need for the project
- Interviews with approximately 60 policy-makers in the Mat-Su Valley to determine local support
- Recommendations for future project advancement.
2. What is happening now? (back to top)
Phase II is currently underway. It will produce a Conceptual Alignment Report that will:
- Update the Mat-Su Borough Long Range Transportation Traffic Model to incorporate the significant amount of growth within the past five years
- Document the results of a Mat-Su Growth Workshop with local and regional development interests that reveal where and how private and public professionals think the Mat-Su area will grow in the future
- Re-examine the need for an alternative corridor based on the most recent data and traffic projections
- Calculate a project Break-Even Point (Bypass vs. No-Build) and brief stakeholders on future needs based on model results
- Produce a project financing White Paper
- Define all feasible roadway alignment alternatives
- Identify potential right-of-way needs and acquisition costs
- Identify conceptual roadway corridors that merit more detailed environmental and engineering analysis
3. Why is this being done now? (back to top)
The project addresses the need for additional roadway capacity in and along the Parks Highway corridor in the vicinity of Wasilla, Alaska. During peak weekday hours, Level of Service (a qualitative measure of traffic conditions) on the Parks Highway, the Palmer Wasilla Highway, and other nearby main roads is currently less than acceptable. Users suffer increasing levels of congestion and delay both on the main east-west roads but also on connecting side streets. According to the Mat-Su Long Range Transportation Plan dated June, 2007 continued growth in Wasilla, Palmer and the Core Area of the Mat-Su Borough is anticipated, and will only worsen with the existing traffic conditions.
The latest Demographic and Economic Projections from the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research (December 2009) indicate that by the year 2035 the number of households and jobs in the Mat-Su area could double or triple, depending on the price per barrel of oil. Much of this growth is anticipated within the next ten years in connection with the development and construction of potential statewide energy projects.
The lack of alternative east-west road connections means that much of this new traffic will be forced to travel along the Parks Highway. Increasing congestion affects not only commuters and other peak users, but also negatively impacts the freight industry and commercial users of a critical National Highway System facility that is the principal north-south highway connecting Anchorage, Denali National Park, Fairbanks and ultimately Prudhoe Bay.
Travel from Anchorage to Fairbanks is currently less than eight hours. An Alternative Corridor project maintains the ability of freight traffic, recreation drivers and tourism interests to make this trip within a day. Further degradation of the Parks Highway through increased signalization will decrease the functional utility of the Interstate facility. The result will be that the time required to travel from Anchorage to Fairbanks will lengthen.
If constructed, the project will provide through traffic a controlled access route around Wasilla allowing unimpeded travel to destinations east and west of Wasilla. The existing Parks Highway will handle local and regional traffic coming to Wasilla’s commercial and retail centers at an acceptable level of service. The project will protect the long-distance use of the Parks Highway, which should improve the economics of regional travel, reduce congestion thus improving local and regional mobility, and improve public safety by minimizing the number of crashes along the road corridor.
4. Who benefits from this project? (Back to top)
This project benefits all users of the Parks Highway from local residents and statewide travelers to long haul truckers. It benefits regional traffic by reducing the amount of time waiting at traffic lights within the city limits of Wasilla. Comments from long-time residents of Big Lake and Houston indicate that travel times have increased significantly, for some up to an additional twenty minutes. These times will only lengthen with the larger volumes of traffic that come with increased population and economic growth.
The project benefits the City of Wasilla by preserving the ability to establish a stronger sense of place with a vibrant downtown core. The alternative corridor will eliminate the need to expand the Parks Highway through Wasilla to accommodate future traffic demand. Expansion of the highway through Wasilla by two or four lanes will impact much of the commercial center of Wasilla making it difficult for the City to develop an attractive town center.
Transportation is about people—how they get to work, school or shopping. Our transportation network is a key element of our economy and quality of life. Here are a few examples of what ADOT&PF anticipates an alternative Parks Highway corridor could do for Wasilla and Matanuska-Susitna Borough:
- Ease traffic growth and congestion in Wasilla, helping to create a more attractive community center for Wasilla residents and visitors.
- Improve traffic circulation and access to local streets to improve access to local businesses.
- Improve safety and decrease congestion by providing through traffic an alternative to traveling through the center of Wasilla, to the benefit of Wasilla residents and other Parks Highway users.
- Improve access and response times for emergency responders.
- If built as a Parkway, the facility would enhance the visitor experience and contribute to the tourism industry.
- Improve safety for pedestrians in the Wasilla center with the reduction in through traffic and narrower road crossings.
- Reduce cost and time of freight delivery to Fairbanks and the North Slope, which will help long-distance Parks Highway users including tourism interests, recreational drivers and visitors.
- Reduce the number of trucks traveling through Wasilla on their way between Anchorage, Fairbanks, and beyond.
- Support the City of Wasilla’s efforts to establish a vibrant downtown as envisioned in the Wasilla Downtown Area Plan.
5. What kind of highway would it be? (back to top)
The project as currently envisioned would connect with the Parks Highway east and west of central Wasilla and would be a limited access facility, emphasizing through traffic. No at-grade intersections are envisioned and interchanges would be built at major cross routes. The number of lanes constructed initially would be based on expected traffic volumes, although right-of-way and alignment would be planned for 4 lanes.
There is continuing discussion about facility design. Some stakeholders advocate for more of a Parkway approach using Context Sensitive Design. This approach would emphasize strengthening the linkage with the natural environment and supporting the Matanuska-Susitna Borough tourism industry via strategically placed scenic pull-outs. Other stakeholders promote the idea of a Freeway or Expressway concept where the emphasis is on efficiency of traffic movement.
6. Has the location of the road been determined? (back to top)
As of August 2013, the project team identified preliminary corridors for the proposed bypass south of the Parks Highway. At the November 2013 Steering Committee Meeting, a recommended corridor was selected for further analysis and review. A Break-Even Analysis is underway to determine the most cost-effective approach to constructing a bypass. Results of this document will be completed within the first quarter of 2014.
7. Did the project team consider routes north of the Parks Highway? (back to top)
Yes, however the option was eliminated at a Steering Committee Meeting in 2010 based on the relatively high density of residential and commercial development north of the Parks Highway, and the “chain of lakes” that extends northeast of Wasilla. It was concluded at the time that routes north of the Parks Highway would stand a very small chance of feasibility while unnecessarily causing concern among residents there. For more information about this determination, please click here.
8. How much money is currently available for the project? What is being done? (back to top)
The legislature appropriated $2 million in funding to the ADOT&PF to start the environmental review process. ADOT&PF is investigating a variety of ways to fund the project and has produced a Project Financing White Paper. Current funding is being used to do initial planning, public involvement, and identification of feasible route corridors.
9. What is the difference between a state and federally funded project? (back to top)
Whether the project is designed and constructed with federal highway funds or with non-federal sources can have a significant impact on the length of time required to construct the project. Project development regulations and requirements normally account for the greatest differences in the length of time needed to complete a project when comparing federal, state and private funding. The federal project development process is linear and typically takes 7 to 10 years to initiate construction while a non-federal project could accomplish several tasks simultaneously thus reducing the project development time to 5 to 7 years. Federal or non-federal project development schedules are contingent on funding availability.
10. What is the schedule for this project? (back to top)
Current Project Tasks and Schedule
- Evaluate and refine roadway alignments: How can the corridor be aligned to minimize impacts on homes, businesses, private land, wetlands, streams, sensitive sites, utilities and other features of the area.
- Break-Even Analysis of alternative corridor: Is the value of reduced delay and accidents that the bypass would offer along with the cost of widening the existing Parks Highway (which would not need to be done if a bypass were built) greater or less than the cost of the bypass?
11. When will the final alignment be determined? (back to top)
By the end of the current planning project, expected in 2014, the ADOT&PF will have developed one or more conceptual corridors for the new highway. This stage of the project will be followed by preliminary engineering of the most promising corridor or corridors which will provide more project details such as needed right-of-way and project cost. Information on the progress of the project will be updated on our web site www.parkshwyalternative.com. A thorough public process will be conducted before a final decision is made on whether the project should be built and if so, what would be the best route for the highway.
12. When will construction begin? (back to top)
Construction is dependent upon the availability of funding but is anticipated to begin sometime after 2020. The road will likely be built east to west in a phased fashion as demand warrants and as funding is available. That is, the segment between the Parks Highway near Seward Meridian Road west to Knik-Goose Bay Road would be constructed first, followed by the segment between Knik-Goose Bay and Vine Road, with the Vine Road to Parks Highway segment at the west end of the project constructed last.
13. How many potential homes need to be acquired to build the recommended corridor and how will homeowners be compensated for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition? (back to top)
The final route has not yet been determined. ADOT&PF is conducting a series of analyses using geographic information systems (Corridor Development Process) and is continuing to modify its recommended corridor based on information received about the project area. Therefore, the number of homes ADOT&PF will potentially need to acquire is unknown at this stage in the process. ADOT&PF’s intent is to minimize the number of homes that would be acquired. ROW compensation is based on Fair Market Value.
14. What kind of noise barriers will be used for homes along or near the potential route? (back to top)
Noise mitigation is determined during the engineering phase of the project (Phase III). At that time, ADOT&PF will conduct a detailed analysis to determine necessary sound barriers.
15. Why is the project team involving the public at this stage of the process?(back to top)
The earlier the public gets involved in a project, the more opportunities exist for the project team to learn about issues of concern, consider how to address them and incorporate solutions. Early public engagement allows stakeholders to weigh in on alternatives, provides the project team with additional local knowledge, helps the project team to gather information, and provides the public a forum to clearly state their concerns about the project. Your comments matter.
16. What public involvement opportunities will there be? (back to top)
Public involvement is critical to the success of any project. You are an important partner and we need your input and need to understand your concerns as they relate to this project. The project team is committed to engaging you and other the stakeholders throughout the project. We invite you to sign up on the project’s mailing list to receive project updates and meeting announcements by filling out the form on the contact us page or by calling 644-2064. You are encouraged and welcome to provide comments electronically on the web site as issues and concerns come to mind. We encourage you to use these additional opportunities to learn more about the project and to provide input:
- Public Meetings
- Community Presentations/briefings
- Newsletter Updates
- Project Web Site