MINUTES
PLANNING COMMISSION
CITY AND BOROUGH OF JUNEAU
SPECIAL MEETING
June 12, 2001 

Chair Johan Dybdahl called the special meeting of the City and Borough of Juneau Planning Commission to order at 7:00 p.m., in the Assembly Chambers of City Hall.

I. ROLL CALL

Commissioners present: Johan Dybdahl, Maria Gladisziewski, Marshal Kendziorek, Mark Pusich, Merrill Sanford, Jody Vick

Commissioners absent: Roger Allington, Mike Bavard, Dan Bruce

A quorum was present.

Staff present: Cheryl Easterwood, Director of Community Development; Oscar Graham, Planning Supervisor; Tim McGuire, Principal Planner; Gary Gillette, Planner; Terri Camery, Planner

Chair Dybdahl called the Special meeting of the Planning Commission to order at 5:09 p.m.

II. PUBLIC PARTICIPATION ON NON-AGENDA ITEMS -

Joe Sonneman – Addressed the Commission about the merits of double decker buses and vehicles. He suggested that transportation planning consider the height of these vehicles in future modifications.

III. REVIEW OF MAY 2001 DRAFT AREA WIDE TRANSPORTATION PLAN AND RECOMMENDATION TO THE ASSEMBLY

Ms. Easterwood reviewed the Draft Area wide Transportation Plan for the Planning Commission. She explained that her review would emphasize the solutions to the deficiencies but if the Commission were more interested in the background to the process, more material could be reviewed. The Transportation Steering Committee (hereinafter referred to as TSC) has labored for over two years on the task. Planning Commissioners Kendziorek and Allington both served on the TSC. The TSC worked together with Kittelson and Associates, a nationally recognized transportation-consulting firm and in concert with CBJ and DOT staff. As well, there was a lot interest by the public in the Plan. Committee members carefully considered comments by the public, which resulted in several modifications to the Draft Plan.

The public comments received primarily centered on two issues: transportation demand management, i.e. actions that could reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and the Egan Drive interchanges. Of these two items, nearly everyone who responded with comments expressed support for transportation demand management. However, there was not a consensus as to whether people believe management can be effective in reducing reliance on the single-occupancy vehicle.

With regard to Egan Drive, the TSC considered essentially three options. The first option was to do nothing. The second option was to create a third lane for each direction. The final and preferred option was two lanes with grade-separated interchanges. The TSC determined that interchanges were clearly the best solution because of the safety features involved and the lighter environmental impacts.

The next step for the Committee was to determine the timing for and sequence of the interchange construction. This question was not answered and the Draft Plan only calls for the design of the interchanges. This reflects the Committee’s belief that the CBJ and DOT must communicate about this plan further. As well, several committee members feel that the transportation demand management actions must be given time to see if they work and perhaps the need for interchanges could be postponed.

Ms. Easterwood commented that Juneauites really care about their transportation systems and the connection between quality of life and transportation was not lost on the citizens of Juneau.

Director’s recommendation: That the Planning Commission approve the Draft Area Wide Transportation Plan and forward it to the Assembly for their approval. As well, she recommends that the public comments are catalogued and retained for future consideration. Many ideas were set forth that deserve consideration in conjunction with other CBJ plans such as the Tourism Plan and the Comprehensive Plan. Other ideas would also interest project designers in terms of future projects.

Ms. Gladziszewski noted that there wasn’t an explanation of how the Plan evolved towards recommending the grade-separated interchanges. A lot of comments discussed light rail systems and she wondered if those alternatives were studied and why they were ruled out. Were other alternatives ruled out because of the cost factor?

Ms. Easterwood explained that following committee discussions, the TSC felt that light rail was beyond the timeframe of the plan and therefore not a suitable response to the current transportation deficiencies. Their focus was on increased and enhanced transit and, with the next update, in about five years, light rail could be considered.

Mr. Sanford asked if the CBJ had commissioned consultants to study light rail in the past. Ms. Easterwood said that Kittelson and Associates did not look at light rail as a part of this study and she didn’t have any previous studies available to her.

Mr. Pusich noted that the Energy Advisory Committee looked at light rail in the past. He asked when the next update of the Transportation Study is projected to occur? Will it follow the format of the Comprehensive Plan? Ms. Easterwood said the Plan discusses updates every five years, however, she thinks updates will occur more frequently.

The presence of Mr. Kendziorek was noted at 5:30 p.m.

Public Testimony

Jamie Parsons, 9298 Emily Way, appears representing the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors commends those involved in drafting the Area Wide Transportation Plan and the Chamber unanimously endorses the plan in general. However, they had comments addressed to the recent changes made to the Plan:

  1. The Chamber notes that the CBJ must take the lead in implementing most of the tasks associated with Transportation Demand Management. It would be useful if the plan details this and other specific tasks that should be expected of the CBJ to manage demand.
  2. The goal of grade-separated interchanges was changed from a direct statement of support and encouragement to a less clear statement. Also, the indication is that more discussion of this concept is necessary. The Chamber of Commerce fervently disagrees with this change. It is far past time to adopt this and urge the State to get on with design and construction of these interchanges. Such a step is needed before any practical rail system can use the Egan Drive median as a route.

The Alaska Department of Transportation is following the CBJ’s lead on transportation issues and that agency will not move forward on grade-separated interchanges without a clear statement of support by the CBJ. The Chamber of Commerce asks that the Area Wide Transportation Plan be adopted as originally stated, or adopt even stronger language relative to grade-separated interchanges.

Steven Sorensen, 6903 Sunny Drive, appeared on behalf of the Sunny Point Neighborhood Association. His is the only neighborhood that is on the left side of Egan Drive between town and the airport. As such, they experience unique transportation issues as they access Sunny Drive from Egan Drive. In response, DOT has been working on graded intersection plans for Sunny Drive. Their ideas range from round-abouts to diamonds and half-diamonds. Some modifications proposed impact the wetlands others modify Sunny Drive. Other ill-advised plans involved turning Sunny Drive into an on-ramp for an interchange. The Neighborhood Association has worked with DOT to come up with more reasonable solutions. But because the Transportation Plan had the goal of devising grade-separated interchanges, DOT stayed focused implementing a solution that would destroy their neighborhood. Therefore, the Sunny Point Neighborhood Association endorses the changes that have been made to the plan as a result of the public hearings. The community of Juneau is nowhere near the point where it needs to consider at-grade intersections. These interchanges will destroy neighborhoods and take up a lot of land. Much more communication needs to take place.

Joe Sonneman 324 Willoughby Ave, recalled the flavor of the public discussion that dealt with the Area Wide Transportation Plan. He isn’t convinced that the plan should be approved to the Assembly because it assumes that the same style of land use decisions will continue. If an overall Transportation Plan is to be considered, land use decisions must be changed. He supports the higher priority that transportation demand management has been given. Mr. Sonneman commented that some people felt that Egan Drive presents a safety problem now and that those problems should be fixed before moving ahead with interchanges. Others felt that traffic on Egan Drive ought to be slowed with round-abouts and a lower speed limit. Others were concerned with the change to ‘design only’ instead of "design and construct" with regard to the grade-separated interchanges. It seems that this achieved the pinnacle of bureacratese and it is confusing and the Planning Commission should not accept that particular change. The safety issues of Egan Drive personally concern Mr. Sonneman. He feels that Egan Drive is a high speed, limited access highway and the failure to construct appropriate freeway interchanges is almost criminal and he doesn’t think that this should be allowed to continue for another five years.

Odin Brudie, 512 6th Street, supports the Transportation Steering Committees changes that were recently made to the Plan. He supports the increased emphasis that transportation demand management was given by committee members. He suggests other small measures that can be taken to dissuade single-occupancy vehicles. For example, bike racks or putting shelters and lights at bus stops, trail links, repairing and upgrading trails that are currently falling apart. A number of these solutions could even be federally funded perhaps. He suggested that further discussions take place between the CBJ and DOT relative to the grade-separated interchanges. He noted that there are land use considerations that must be fully analyzed. The example of the Sunny Point Neighborhood Association was an excellent example of the potential difficulties that the community may encounter.

There was no one else who wished to testify, and so Chair Dybdahl closed public testimony.

As a member of the Transportation Steering Committee, Mr. Kendziorek urged the Commission to accept the Plan and forward it to the Assembly for approval. A phenomenal amount of time was spent on the Plan and personally, he was gratified that the last changes were made. Specifically, he supported the increased emphasis that was given to of transportation demand management in the Plan. He also agreed with Mr. Sonneman, that the distinction between ‘design’ and ‘design and build’ was odd and the necessity was lost on him as well. Nevertheless, he supported moving the Plan forward.

Mr. Vick disagreed with the language change made to the grade-separated interchanges. He felt this amounted to moving the idea to the back burner. He agrees that a lot of work needs to be done, but that did not justify sidelining the idea.

Mr. Dybdahl noted that aside from the Area Wide Transportation Plan, many projects have gone before the Planning Commission that were a part of a rating process. At times, he has been chagrinned that the prioritization had very little effect on the implementing agencies. He felt that any message sent to DOT that might be preceived as "mixed" could cause this project to be set aside. A problem must be addressed and he would rather recommend that the language be changed back to "design and construct" grade-separated interchanges. After all, any project that arises must come before the Planning Commission for further review.

Mr. Pusich asked staff to explain how the wording was changed and why. He agreed with Mr. Dybdahl, that a lot of interaction between the agencies and the public lay ahead for any construction project that may result from the Transportation Plan. He didn’t think that roadblocks to the process should be raised in the planning stages.

Mr. Kendziorek recalled that the previous draft stated, "design and construct." He didn’t think that the change in verbiage amounted to putting the interchanges on the back burner. On the contrary, the last round of public hearings was instructive to Mr. Kendziorek. He realized that a lot of education must be done to explain what is even meant by "grade-separated interchanges." Initially, he was strongly opposed to the idea, but after the process, he is in favor of interchanges. He said they would allow for a more efficient transit system between the valley and downtown. Regarding the removal of the word, "construct," Mr. Kendziorek indicated that it was a compromise. He hoped that DOT would favor the project with design funds and that the process would move forward. He believed that public education would garner public support for this efficiency.

Ms. Gladziszewski noted that it was difficult to evaluate the options in the plan because there weren’t estimates for the cost. For example, how much do grade-separated interchanges cost versus light rail?

Mr. Dybdahl recalled that the light rail idea came from the last update to the Comprehensive Plan. Proponents from the community came forward with the idea suggesting that land use considerations be weighed so that potential terminus in the valley and downtown are not precluded.

Mr. Kendziorek noted that the Plan was a long-range conceptual plan that reigned in rough priorities without regard to cost. The priorities were honed after long discussions over many meetings that focused on concepts.

Ms. Gladziszewski found it difficult to decide in favor of one priority while excluding light rail when neither option has been fully considered in terms of the cost.

Mr. Pusich asked Mr. Kendziorek to define, "long-term."

Mr. Kendziorek said that long-term would be approximately 20 years. The Transportation Plan was perceived to span 20 years with intermittent updates every five or so years. This is in contrast to "near-term" which is considered to be almost immediate.

Motion: by Mr. Kendziorek that the Planning Commission adopt the Draft Area Wide Transportation Plan and forward it to the Assembly for approval.

Mr. Vick said that he was not comfortable with the language change dealing with interchanges. He thought that a return to the original stronger language stating, "design and construct" was appropriate.

Chair Dybdahl asked the maker of the motion to consider Ms. Easterwood’s suggestion that the public comments be catalogued for future use.

Mr. Kendziorek agreed, adding to his motion:

that all the public comments and analysis of the comments be added to the Plan as an appendix item.

Ms. Gladziszewski proposed the following amendment:

On page 13 of the Draft Area Wide Transportation Plan to remove the "conceptual only" part of the mass transit route and put in a sentence that reads, "study alternatives guide way transportation systems including fixed guide-way transportation systems in the near-term. "

Mr. Kendziorek hesitated to use the term, "fixed guide way" in the motion, however, he supported "studying a transit system in whatever form it may take."

After a brief discussion, Mr. Kendziorek accepted a friendly amendment that stated, "study alternative transit systems."

Mr. Kendziorek added that he is reluctant to make changes to the Plan following a one-hour meeting considering the sweeping work that has gone into the Plan by the Transportation Steering Committee and all of the other participants.

Mr. Dybdahl clarified that the motion on the table was to approve the Plan. He further suggested that a list of recommendations be compiled for the Assembly to consider individually.

Mr. Pusich spoke in support of the motion. He commended all the participants for their work and involvement. He thought that Egan Drive had serious safety issues that need to be addressed, sooner rather than later. He also recommended that "design and construct" be retained in the Plan.

Mr. Kendziorek agreed with the Chair, that the Plan be forwarded to the Assembly with recommendations. He believed that the public would come to support the interchanges once an education program was launched.

Mr. Dybdahl added that public perception doesn’t always understand that a project must come back for review and they have the opportunity to comment and affect changes. Mr. Dybdahl called for a list of recommendations is included as an amendment to Mr. Kendziorek’s motion. He called upon Ms. Easterwood to compile the list as one of her final duties as Community Development Director.

Mr. Kendziorek restated his motion prior to the roll call vote:

That the Planning Commission accept the draft Area Wide Transportation Plan as written and forward it to the Assembly.

In addition, there are two items that the Planning Commission suggest that the Assembly review further:

  1. to change "design" to "design and construct" the grade-separated interchanges
  2. remove the word "conceptual" from Item No. 17 for mass transit, which would result in making it a priority for the near-term.

And, to include the public comment and analysis of those comments as an appendix.

Roll call vote:

Yeas: Dybdahl, Gladziszewski, Kendziorek, Pusich, Sanford, Vick
Nays:
Absent: Allington, Bavard, Bruce

IV. ADJOURNMENT

There being no other business and no objection, Chairman Dybdahl adjourned the meeting at 6:05 p.m.