Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:02 PM on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Main Street signal a 'go'?

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

In 2005, a study of Homer intersections ranked those areas of greatest concern. At the top of the list was Main Street and the Sterling Highway. The study said by 2011, that intersection would be bad enough in terms of traffic volume and safety to merit an upgrade.

Welcome to 2011 — time to fix that intersection.

Next Tuesday at the Homer City Council meeting, City Manager Walt Wrede will present to the council a resolution seeking advice on how to proceed with Main Street. That resolution will ask these questions:

• Should the city ask the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to improve the intersection?

• Should DOT-PF put in a traffic light or roundabout?

• Should Main Street from Pioneer Avenue to the south end past Bunnell Avenue be upgraded to urban standards and taken over by the city?

The Sterling Highway and Main Street south of Pioneer Avenue are state roads, maintained by DOT-PF. Several years ago the city received a $2 million grant to address Main Street improvements — a grant originally intended as part of the failed Town Center project. When voters turned down a bond for a new city hall in the Town Center area on Main Street, the city council asked that the grant be used to put in a traffic signal.

The issue has come back to the council because Wrede said DOT-PF told him $2 million isn't enough for intersection improvements and a signal. Before a signal could go in, the intersection would need improvements like turning lanes, grade changes and other construction.

Actually, $2 million would pay for intersection and signal improvements, according to the latest DOT-PF estimate.

"This budget is established on getting something done," said Scott Thomas, a DOT-PF traffic engineer in Anchorage.

DOT-PF has nominated the Main Street-Sterling Highway intersection project for its 2012-2015 Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan. If selected for the STIP, the project would qualify for federal highway money.

"The Homer: Main Street Improvements at Sterling Highway" project ranks 14 on a list of projects being considered. The state Project Evaluation Board is meeting through today in Juneau to score further those projects.

For another $2 million, a roundabout could be built, for a total cost of $4 million, according to DOT-PF estimates. That cost includes right-of-way acquisition.

The STIP request doesn't have money for Main Street improvements, said Joselyn Biloon, DOT-PF area planner for the Kenai Kodiak region. However, if the state funded the Main Street-Sterling Highway intersection and signal improvements through using federal funds, the city could spend its $2 million on bringing Main Street itself up to urban standards, similar to road improvements done on Bartlett Street.

The resolution before the council would support that STIP request and commit the city to using its $2 million grant as a match toward improving Main Street. After hearing about the lower estimate for a signal, Wrede said Wednesday that could change the discussion with the council about what to do with the intersection.

Biloon didn't have an estimate on the cost of improving Main Street itself.

Thomas said the Main Street-Sterling intersection is one of the region's higher area of concerns based on demand. There are safety concerns, too. More than five angle crashes in one year — crashes where cars hit at an angle and not head-on — merited safety concern. DOT-PF wants to fix the intersection before crashes become more severe.

"My main concern is to move ahead before there is a severe crash," Thomas said.

Roundabouts generally cost more to build, but less to maintain and run, because signals require annual electricity and maintenance costs. A Main Street-Sterling Highway roundabout would have to be built to accommodate double-trailer trucks. To build a large enough roundabout there would require some right-of-way acquisition, and probably impact three businesses and a home, including NAPA Auto Parts and the Old Inlet Bookshop. If built, the roundabout would be similar in design to a four-way roundabout in Anchorage at C Street and O'Malley Road.

Biloon agreed with Thomas that the state considers Main Street and Sterling to be a high safety concern.

"This needs to be addressed now," she said. "We're doing everything we can to get it funded through the federal process. We don't know if it will work. Every community has a Main Street, and really good arguments for why it should get fixed."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.