Seward & 36th improvement plans still under consideration

The intersection of 36th and the new Seward Highway in Anchorage is getting a make-over. The state’s Department of Transportation says it’s to make the area safer and less congested.

Everyday about 65,000 cars pass through the intersection of 36th Avenue and the new Seward Highway, most of them are headed north or south. DOT reports that the intersection is the most congested in the state, meaning the most likely to cause delays, and there are about 50 reported accidents there each year.

Since 2012 the department has been working on a plan to fix the problem. Project manager Sean Holland says they’ve narrowed it down to two options for redoing the roads and running the highway above 36th. He says the major issue is that the distance between Tudor and Benson is only about a mile.

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a "Half SPUI."
A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Half SPUI.”

“There’s not enough room in there for traffic to weave for entering and exiting traffic from the highway to make a safe and efficient movement.”

That means both potential options will have new types of intersections underneath the highway. Holland says they could be confusing for drivers at first, but mostly locals use it.

“We’re thinking that all of these alternatives are a little bit unconventional, [but] that people will learn them pretty quickly. It will take hopefully one or two times. You know, I think if you take the wrong turn the first time, then the second time you’ll be able to pick it up,” he said.

One major difference between the two plans is that one has left exits and the other has right ones. Neither plan allows drivers to get on the highway at 36th and go north. Holland says it couldn’t be safely done. Vehicles will have to take different routes, like LaTouche or Denali.

“It’s probably going to put some more pressure on those intersections,” he explains. However, “our models show that with the increased efficiency that we’re going to find at Seward and 36th, that those other intersections, we’re going to find, will operate at an acceptable level.”

A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a "Hybrid SPUI."
A design option for the 36th and Seward intersection called a “Hybrid SPUI.”

At the moment the project is only half funded. DOT has $36 million from the state legislature. They’ll need between $50 and $70 million to complete it. Holland says the department would like to start the 2-year construction project in 2016, but it will depend on funding.

They’re accepting public comments during an open house on June 16 at the Loussac Library. They’re looking for input on issues like how the plans will impact bicyclists and pedestrians.

You can find out more about the project here.