Eagle River 'brake light hill' getting a winter makeover

The moniker “brake light hill” should begin fading from the vernacular of Glenn Highway travelers in about a year. That’s the goal of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Eagle River bridge project.

DOT began work in late September to add a third lane to the northbound Glenn Highway between the Hiland Road and Artillery Road exits. As part of that work, a new, northbound bridge will be constructed.

The northbound grade will subsequently be reduced from 6 percent to 4 percent, which should improve traffic flow over the bridge, according to DOT.

Department engineer Tal Maxwell said the new three-lane bridge will be about 20 feet higher than the current one, and that will help cut the hill.

The bridge will span Eagle River in what is now a large median between the northbound and southbound corridors. Building a new bridge structure will actually allow DOT and Kiewit Corp., the project’s private construction firm, to work outside of the traditional road construction season, Maxwell said.

DOT spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said the plan is ideal for construction in a high-traffic area because it adds lanes with minimal traffic congestion.

“We’ll be working all winter on building the foundation for the bridge. That should not impact traffic,” Maxwell said.

The section of the Glenn Highway between Anchorage and Eagle River sees more than 50,000 vehicles on an average day.

The northbound work — Phase 1 of the Glenn Highway Hiland to Artillery Road improvements — is a $42.5 million, state-funded project. A $35 million general obligation bond passed during the November 2012 statewide election supplied a majority of the funding with the rest coming from state appropriations.

Staying away from Federal Highway Administration dollars, which constitute a majority of major road project funding, allowed DOT to move from conception to contract bidding within 13 months, much quicker than the typical federal procurement process, McCarthy said.

Additionally, the project is being done on a design-build contract, not the design-bid-build process usually used for road projects.

In the coming days, the left lanes of both the north and southbound lanes will be closed from 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., according to an Oct. 21 department release. Crews will also be working on the east side of VFW Road.

Right now the construction team is building crane pads and clearing space for other requisite equipment. That will continue until the ground is too frozen to get more grade work done, according to Maxwell.

The northbound bridge and new road segment is scheduled for completion in December 2015.

“We have a lot of work to get done and as soon as we can in spring we’re going to hit the ground running,” Maxwell said.

Tying the new bridge into the existing traffic pattern will require lane closures next year, he said.

The closures will be done around rush hours so a traffic back up that occurred Oct. 15 is not repeated, McCarthy said.

“What we have established is that we don’t do lane closures during peak travel times,” she said.

The Oct. 15 delays that lasted up to 90 minutes stemmed from miscommunication within the department as to when lane closures are permitted on the project, according to McCarthy.

DOT will work to keep all future lane closures limited to that 9:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. window, she said. Additionally, the department will do what it can with notices to alert the public about traffic pattern changes so travelers are not caught unaware in delays.

“If we get to the point where we have to have a lane closure (during peak traffic) the whole concept is to make sure the public knows about it two to three weeks in advance so they’re prepared,” McCarthy said.

When the work is done the existing bridge and highway sections will be converted to a frontage road between the interchanges.

Phase 2, a new southbound bridge and lane expansion, will commence when funding becomes available, according to Maxwell. He said Kiewit has the design ready for that half of the highway to keep continuity throughout all the work.

McCarthy said it is still too early to tell whether Phase 2 will be primarily state or federally funded.

The scope of the Eagle River bridge work can be viewed further at the dedicated project website, www.eagleriverbridgenb.com.

Traffic pattern updates are available at www.alaskanavigator.org or 511.alaska.gov.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

11/23/2016 - 3:07pm