Parks Highway MP 44-52
IRIS #s: Z529140000, Z529290000, Z543730000/Federal #s: 0A41025, 0A41026, 0A41029

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Project/General

1. What is the purpose of this project?
2. How is the project funded?

Safety

3. Why is the Parks Highway between Lucus Road and Big Lake Road a traffic safety corridor?
4. What are the existing crash rates?
5. Are there plans to mitigate the moose/vehicle conflicts?

Access

6. What is meant by “access”? 
7. What is the access plan for this corridor? 
8. What does it mean to improve mobility of a roadway? 
9. What is the cost of congestion in this corridor?

Signalization

10. Will there be a signal at Big Lake?

Alternatives 

11. What other alternatives were considered? 
12. Will there still be a multi-use pathway?

Right of Way

13. What are my rights as a property owner if the project will require some of my property? 


1. Q. What is the purpose of this project? to top

A. The purpose of this project is to improve safety, reduce congestion, and increase travel efficiency. To improve safety, the project will reduce high severity crash rates along the corridor, particularly head-on collisions; reduce overall crash rates along the corridor for vehicles and all highway corridor users; and reduce moose/vehicle collisions along the corridor. To reduce congestion, the project will reduce unacceptable congestion in the design year for users traveling on the Parks Highway from Lucus Road to Big Lake Road; and reduce unacceptable delay (congestion) in the design year at signalized and unsignalized intersections along the Parks Highway from Lucus Road to Big Lake Road. To increase travel efficiency, the project will decrease travel time for users commuting from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (MSB) to the Anchorage area; decrease travel time for regional traffic heading north or south through Meadow Lakes; and safely and efficiently accommodate mobility for longer trips and accessibility to adjacent land parcels and local streets.  (Excerpt from Parks Highway: MP 44-52, Lucus Road to Big Lake Road, Revised Environmental Assessment, September 2010, page 8).

2. Q. How is the project funded? to top

A. The project is funded by the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The federal government pays 93.4% of project costs with the State paying for the remaining 6.6%.


3. Q. Why is the Parks Highway between Lucus Road and Big Lake Road a traffic safety corridor? to top

A. The Parks Highway is a designated safety corridor. This safety corridor status was enabled in 2006 by the action of the Alaska State Legislature. The designation, granted only when an analysis of crash data warrants it, mobilizes long-term and short-term mitigation strategies involving engineering, enforcement and education. What led to this designation?

In excess of 20,000 vehicles used the corridor each day in 2010, and this number is expected to double by 2033. Crash rates for traffic safety corridors are orders of magnitude higher than other corridors statewide as shown in the table below.

Crashes by Severity 1999-2008
(Source: DOT&PF, Traffic Safety)


Type

Statewide Crashes

Traffic Safety Corridor Crashes

Number

Percentage

Number

Percentage

Fatalities

780

0.58%

61

2.47%

Incapacitating Injury

4287

3.20%

180

7.28%

Non-Incapacitating

35395

26.40%

718

29.06%

Property Damage Only

93586

69.82%

1512

61.19%

The Environmental Assessment (EA) noted that “many of these crashes are access-related and over 60 percent are head-on collisions.” Head-on and angle (access related) collisions are the type of crashes that are significantly reduced or eliminated by a partial access controlled divided highway. For more information about Traffic Safety Corridors, view the DOT&PF Safety Corridors web site (dot.alaska.gov/comm/safety_corridors.shtml)

4. Q. What are the existing crash rates? to top

A. According to the 2004-2008 crash data review, the Parks Highway between Wasilla and Houston has the highest rate of fatal and major injury crashes (per vehicle mile) in the DOT&PF Central Region. During the Traffic Safety Corridor (TSC) study period (1977-2005), 33 fatal collisions occurred in the study area. Of those, 28 of the most recent fatal collisions occurred between Church Road and Big Lake Road. The fatal accident rate for this segment was 2.68 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles (MVM), which is approximately 183 percent of the national fatal accident rate for 2004. When compared to statewide averages, three factors/conditions were over represented in the fatal collision analysis including: 1) dark and twilight lighting conditions (48 percent compared to a statewide average of 28 percent), 2) improper lane use/change (21.21 percent compared to a statewide average of 5.90 percent), and 3) head-on collisions (60 percent compared to a statewide average of 16 percent). The significant increase in head-on collisions is possibly due to several factors such as the urban characteristics of this portion of Parks Highway, high volumes of both commuter and summer recreational traffic, the disparity in vehicle speeds, and vehicle mass among commuter versus recreation drivers. (Excerpt from Parks Highway: MP 44-52, Lucus Road to Big Lake Road, Revised Environmental Assessment, September 2010, page 2, Safety Corridor Designation).

The following graphics provide a comparison of crash rates for 5-Lane versus 4-Lane Highways with Median Segments:

5. Q. Are there plans to mitigate the moose/vehicle conflicts? to top

A. To reduce moose collisions within the project area the project will install continuous lighting along the entire 8.3 mile segment of the Parks Highway and clear portions of  the right of way for better visibility..


6. Q. What is meant by “access”? to top

A. The term access refers to how vehicles get onto and off of the roadway. Access can be provided via ramps, intersections, frontage roads, and driveways. The level of access to adjacent property is dependent on the primary function of the roadway. As such, “access management” determines how and where roadway users get on and get off of a roadway, directly impacting traffic flow on the roadway.

Roadway Function versus Mobility/Access

Roadway Function versus Mobility/Access
     Source: dot.alaska.gov/stwdplng/fclass/index.shtml

7. Q. What is the access plan for this corridor? to top

A. The Parks Highway has a functional classification of “interstate”, which would typically indicate a design with full access control.  An exemption permitted in 23 USC 103, allows the DOT&PF to provide less restrictive access to the highway in order to balance the various needs and demands of users. The DOT&PF Corridor Management Plan defines limits and types of permissible access onto and across the highway.

For businesses along the corridor, the Federal Highway Administration has developed a publication Safe Access is Good For Business that addresses the advantages of safe access.

8. Q. What does it mean to improve mobility of a roadway? to top

A. The term mobility is defined by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as “the ability [of traffic] to move or be moved from place to place”. This ability to move or be moved is not mode-dependent but applies to vehicles, transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists. According to the FHWA, mobility can be measured in terms of “travel times, level of traffic congestion, or duration of congestion-all of which focus on how long it takes to get from place to place”.

9. Q. What is the cost of congestion in this corridor? to top

A. Increased congestion has resulted in long delay times and high delay costs associated with stop-and-go conditions along the highway. In 2007, the DOT&PF examined the delay in its major corridors and estimated the value of lost time to the traveling public using a value of $15 per hour. This project corridor was ranked third among the top 10 congestion bottlenecks in the Central Region with an estimated cost to the traveling public of $9 million annually. (Excerpt from Parks Highway: MP 44-52, Lucus Road to Big Lake Road, Revised Environmental Assessment, September 2010, page 8).


10. Q. Will there be a signal at Big Lake? to top

A. A signal is now warranted at the Big Lake intersection and will be part of the Phase 3 design and construction.


11. Q. What other alternatives were considered? to top

A. The Environmental Assessment, which was complete in 2010, addressed the alternatives.

Three other alternatives were evaluated a four-lane divided highway with a depressed grass median and partial frontage roads; a four-lane divided highway with fully controlled access; and a five-lane section.

Four-lane Divided Highway with Depressed Grass Median and
Partial Frontage Roads Alternative (Preferred)
This alternative would extend the five-lane section approximately one mile from Lucus Road to Church Road and upgrade 7.3 miles of the existing highway to a four-lane divided highway with at-grade intersections generally spaced every half-mile and a depressed median from Church Road to Big Lake Road. A 30-foot wide median would be constructed from Church Road to Museum Drive and a 42-foot wide median would be utilized beyond Museum Drive to Big Lake Road. This alternative would provide for increased capacity and improve the level of service.

The existing signalized Church Road intersection, located approximately one-half mile inside the western limits of the City of Wasilla, is a logical boundary between suburban/rural and urban development. Currently, the five-lane section ends approximately half-mile east of Church Road; this alternative would replace the first half-mile of two-lane roadway with a 5- lane section and transition to the four-lane divided cross-section west of Church Road.

Approximately 4 miles of existing frontage roads would be improved, driveways would be consolidated, and at-grade intersections would be placed where conflicts can be minimized to reduce crash rates. Approaches for 11 cross streets would be improved. The existing intersection with Museum Drive would be relocated to the west of its current location to address sight distance issues resulting from the existing alignment in relation to the embankment for the ARRC crossing bridge. The existing 10-foot wide paved multi-use pathway would be reconstructed and/or relocated as required to accommodate mainline, frontage roads, and intersection improvements. Illumination would be provided along the full length of the corridor due to the higher than average proportion of dark and twilight accidents as well as for moose mitigation.

Culverts would be upgraded or extended as needed. The two existing culverts at Little Meadow Creek would be removed and replaced with a short span bridge. A bridge structure parallel to the existing structure would be constructed to accommodate additional through traffic lanes over the railroad.

Access management would be utilized to define limits of permissible access onto and across the highway. This design shifts “direct access” onto secondary roads where possible to preserve the high mobility function of the corridor. This would encourage development of the local roadway system to accommodate local traffic circulation off the highway system.

Initial analyses indicate this alternative meets the projects’ purpose and need. The median and illumination are anticipated to reduce the high severity crashes. The additional thru lanes would add capacity to the facility, reducing anticipated congestion. The implementation of access management would improve the travel efficiency for all roadway users by reducing the travel time for regional and commuter traffic and improving the circulation patterns for local traffic.

Four-lane Divided Highway with Fully Controlled Access Alternative
Similar to the Preferred Alternative, this alternative would extend the five-lane section from Lucus Road to Church Road. The remainder of the proposed project corridor, from Church Road to Big Lake Road would be designed as a freeway style facility and would upgrade the existing highway west of Church Road to a four-lane divided highway with two lane, two way frontage roads on each side and grade separated interchanges at two major intersections.

This design would be similar to the Parks Highway between the Glenn Highway and Seward Meridian Parkway east of the City of Wasilla. This alternative would include reconstruction of the multi-use pathway, continuous corridor illumination, drainage improvements, installation of a bridge at Little Meadow Creek and construction of a bridge over the railroad similar to the Preferred Alternative.

Existing frontage roads along this section of the Parks Highway are adequately handling access density in developed areas. In areas without existing frontage roads, driveway density is low as development in these areas is sparse. This alternative would therefore construct frontage roads for undeveloped areas along the corridor where future development may or may not occur.

This alternative would construct full frontage roads along both sides of the highway and grade separated interchanges, which would cause this alternative to have a footprint approximately twice the size as the Preferred Alternative. This would significantly increase ROW requirements and environmental impacts, particularly wetland impacts. Much of the existing development in this section has occurred in areas immediately adjacent to the highway in what is commonly referred to as “strip development”. Because numerous established businesses and residences would be relocated, impacts to the community would be excessive.

This alternative would separate the thru traffic from local traffic accessing adjacent businesses. It would increase capacity, improve mobility, attain full access control, and reduce conflicts that may lead to crashes. However, this alternative was not carried forward due to the significant additional ROW requirements, environmental consequences, and construction costs over the Preferred Alternative.

The four-lane divided highway with fully controlled access alternative was eliminated for the following reasons:

  • Significant additional ROW requirements;
  • Excessive impacts to the community;
  • Numerous environmental consequences;
  • Substantial additional construction costs.

Five-Lane Section Alternative with Center Left-Turn Lane
This alternative would extend the five-lane section the entire length of the proposed project corridor from Lucus Road to Big Lake Road. As with the other Build Alternatives, this alternative would include reconstruction of the multi-use pathway, continuous illumination, drainage improvements, and construction of bridges at Little Meadow Creek and over the railroad. This alternative would provide increased capacity; however, conflicts between highway through traffic and local community traffic would continue.

The Preferred Alternative was selected over the five-lane section alternative because it holds considerable safety, capacity and efficiency advantages over a five-lane facility. It more effectively balances the competing demands for thru-traffic mobility, local access, and public safety.

The five-lane section alternative was eliminated for the following reasons:

  • Increases density of vehicles accessing the highway from adjacent properties and side streets, which slows travel speeds for thru traffic;
  • Provides less capacity than the Preferred Alternative;
  • Fails to provide for efficient movement of through traffic within the corridor;
  • Fails to provide sufficient separation of traffic traveling in opposite directions to reduce head-on and side swipe crashes;
  • Fails to provide adequate space for future multiple lane left turn pockets forecasted to be needed in the design life;
  • Fails to provide for safe movement of local traffic across and throughout the corridor;
  • Fails to provide a pedestrian refuge;
  • Left turns not as safe as U-turns at designated signals;
  • Improper use by merging traffic.

(Excerpt from Parks Highway: MP 44-52, Lucus Road to Big Lake Road, Revised Environmental Assessment, September 2010, beginning on page 18).

12. Q. Will there still be a multi-use pathway? to top

A. Yes. The project includes a multi-use non-motorized pathway the entire length of the project on the north side of the roadway between Lucus and Pittman Road/Sylvan Road. The pathway shifts to the south side of the Parks Highway between Pittman/Sylvan and the end of the project.


13. Q. What are my rights as a property owner if the project will require some of my property? to top

A. At this time, the precise right-of-way requirements are still undetermined. When the right-of-way requirements are determined and right-of-way acquisition has begun, we have to follow the specific guidelines outlined in the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 as Amended. Acquiring Real Property for Federal and Federal-Aid Programs and Projects - PDF