Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole wrote an interesting story for the Thursday, Aug. 26, edition of the newspaper, telling the story of a road construction project gone wrong for Fairbanks cyclists and pedestrians.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities recently rebuilt the east end of Phillips Field Road, which runs through an industrial section of Fairbanks between the Chena River and the Johansen Expressway, with part of the road next to some Alaska Railroad land (click here for map). But the upgrade did not widen the road or add shoulders to make things safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Even though this is an industrial area of Fairbanks, there also are some popular stores, such as Spenard Builders Supply, on Phillips Field Road.
Long before construction began on this project, local officials were pushing for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Alaska Railroad to figure out a way to make the road safer and wider.
But the road is not wider and the shoulders that are about eight feet wide near the Ice Park, dwindle down to nothing by the time you approach the main part of the railroad yard. The only concession for pedestrian and bicyclists appears to be the signs that say “Shoulder Narrows” and “Share the Road.”
From what I’ve found, it appears that the budget, the design schedule and a lack of cooperation between the state transportation department and the railroad combined to produce a result that is not what it should be.
Both agencies will dispute this. But they should look back at the decision-making process to see whether things could have been done differently to end up with a better situation.
Cole goes on to write about how it appears that the voices of several key stakeholders were not heard or considered when the road was planned. It also appears there were bureaucratic hurdles that weren’t cleared, especially regarding an expired easement the state had on some railroad land. Even though there were calls for a wider road with shoulders, the plan without these improvements went ahead for expediency’s sake.
The railroad and the transportation department should be called upon to not act like sovereign nations, but to make an overall judgment about what is best for public safety in the broadest sense.
What’s not clear to me is if there was any attempt by the two agencies to strike a balance in which rail safety and the safety of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists are considered. If not, the process is flawed.
What’s sad about this fiasco is that in March, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced a major change in national road project priorities.
“We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects,” he said. “We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.” LaHood also announced seven recommendations for state and local departments of transportation, including treating bicycling and walking as equal forms of transportation modes.
These recommendations obviously weren’t followed in Fairbanks and now there is about a half-mile of Phillips Field Road with “no shoulders to speak of,” even after this $2 million “upgrade.”