Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 7:42 PM on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Main Street roundabout hits red light

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

After going in circles about how to make the Sterling Highway-Main Street intersection safer, the need for repairs to Main Street and costs associated with those efforts, the Homer City Council set a course Tuesday night that bypasses a roundabout and goes straight to the quickest, least expensive fix: a stop light.

This came after phone calls earlier in the day to City Manager Walt Wrede from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities shed a different light on the subject. Instead of a $3 million stoplight or a $4 million roundabout, number-crunching by DOTPF indicated roundabout costs ranged in the $5 million neighborhood, while a traffic signal, minus upgrades to Main Street, could be provided for the $2 million the city has in its pocket for the project.

"It would just not have all the bells and whistles, most notably turning lanes on Main Street," Wrede told the council. "Traffic engineers say it would still meet traffic standards for the given traffic levels and accidents."

The intersection and Main Street upgrades would probably score high on the state's STIP — Statewide Transportation Improvement Program — list so it could receive federal funding, especially given the city's ability to contribute $2 million to the project, Wrede said he was told by the state. However, the complexity of the improvements would lengthen the time until it could be completed.

"They probably wouldn't start designing until 2012 or 2013, it would take another five years for construction, so we're probably looking at 2018 or 2019 before we'd be going in circles," said Wrede.

By comparison, two years is the timeline for the state to install a traffic signal paid with city dollars.

That new information caused the council to rethink a resolution on Tuesday's agenda. If passed it would have requested the state place the entire project — Sterling Highway-Main Street intersection improvements, upgrading Main Street to urban road standards and improving the Main Street-Pioneer Avenue intersection — on the STIP list.

"Given this information, I think we should vote it down and go back to the original resolution," said council member Beth Wythe. "Then we should call Sen. (Mark) Begich, who said 'If you can't make this happen, call me.' ... Call him and say we can't take two to three years to put in a stop light."

Council member Francie Roberts reported having received a number of phone calls and e-mails from residents supporting a roundabout, however she was dismayed by the state's projected timeline for completing the work.

Although council member David Lewis said he also had received e-mails supporting the idea of a roundabout, he was concerned about the possibility of it requiring space that could shut down local businesses.

"We're talking about taking chunks of land from businesses that don't have a whole lot of chunks," Lewis said.

Wythe's recollection was that the city had two reasons for addressing the Sterling Highway-Main Street intersection: "Creating a pedestrian crossing, which a roundabout does not provide, and dealing with traffic flow. A traffic signal will do that immediately," she said.

Council member Kevin Hogan, who attended the meeting telephonically, said he was looking at a photograph he'd taken Monday of a roundabout in North Carolina.

"It is in diameter significantly larger than we could possibly think about putting in that intersection. There are tire tracks all up and down the sidewalk because of large, 40-foot tractor-trailers that cannot negotiate the turning range," he said. "And this is a brand new roundabout and already there's damage to curbs from trucks running off the side."

When the evening's agenda finally came to Resolution 11-017, and Mayor James Hornaday called for a motion to introduce it, the council members were silent.

"It fails for lack of a motion," said Hornaday.

Following the meeting, Wrede told the Homer News, "The message I'm taking to DOTPF is that we have $2 million and we will give it to DOT if they build the traffic signal. ... That's going to disappoint a lot of people."

However, Wrede said he would ask the state if it was possible to put in a temporary signal and still nominate the project for the STIP so the entire project could be completed in the future.

The council was silent again Tuesday when support was needed for an ordinance requiring a license to do business in the city. Sponsored by Hogan, it drew considerable discussion earlier in the day when Hogan's substitute, making numerous changes to the original ordinance, was presented to the council.

"There's no memorandum from (the Finance Department) how this new proposal would affect them," said Roberts. "I'm unclear whether this changes anything in significant costs."

Hogan said he expected there would be a "significant effect." Council member Barbara Howard also raised concern over enforcement of the ordinance.

"We should be more diligent about making sure sales tax doesn't leak out of the community, but I think there are other ways to do that," said Wrede. "In my view, this doesn't raise any significant money, but it raises more cost. I don't know if it's worth the effort."

During the evening meeting, the ordinance failed for lack of a second to Hogan's motion for adoption.

The council received an overview Tuesday of this year's legislative session from city lobbyists Linda Anderson and Yuri Morgan of Anderson Group LLC. Hornaday and Wrede also reported on their recent trip to Juneau to meet with legislators and state officials, and the possibility of obtaining $10 million in state funding for a natural gas line from Anchor Point to Homer and Kachemak City. (See related story, page 3.)

The next meeting of the city council is Feb. 28, with a work session at 4 p.m., a committee of the whole meeting at 5 p.m., and the regular meeting at 6 p.m.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.