I don’t have any illusions about H2H. The engineers and public liasions at DOT are making every effort to allow input at every turn, and to break it to us slowly and gently. We’re at least two years away from seeing drawings of anything specific about the proposed route and details of effects on existing neighborhoods and the land. But I know this project has the potential to ruin my life.
A little background…
Is it possible to explain Anchorage to someone not from here? It is a city of nearly 300,000 built on a land form called a bowl, but it’s flat rather than concave — more of a peninsula, perhaps? With a body of water, an inlet with two arms on the west side and a series of 20 or 30 rugged 4,000 to 10,000 ft tall peaks on its east border. All of the part in between is rapidly descending into kind of a free for all, a chaotic criss-crossing functions and a hapless smear of mini-mega malls, big boxes, car dealers, office towers and cookie cuttered ticky-tacky. That’s the bad part. The good part is there’s still a lot of scenery and wilderness and wildlife and wild life and everything else that anyone ever thought was good about the place — right inside the city. There are still only two ways out of town. The Seward Highway to the south is a two-lane series of dangerous curves running along the shore of Turnagain Arm at the base of the Chugach Mountains, passing a few very small towns including Girdwood [3,000 or so], the home of world class downhill skiing and dirty hippies [my kind of place except it’s sort of monocultural, while trying not to be]. About 80 miles out of town the road splits and one fork takes you a bit further into the seaside town of Seward, the other leading another 150 miles down the Kenai Peninsula past Kenai-Soldotna and on into Homer [“a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem”]. With some of the best recreational opportunities you can imagine, all along the way. The other route out takes you to points north, via the Glenn Highway. Starts out with eight lanes, down to six pretty quickly, then four, right past the bedroom community of Eagle River, then past the suburbs of the suburb and rocketing into the Mat-Su Valley and the upstart towns of Wasilla and Palmer. From there you can take a two-lane of a continuation of the Glenn to points further north and eventually drive into the Yukon Territory or down to Valdez, or stick with the arterial [also a two lane once clear of Wasilla] and trek the Parks Highway past Talkeetna, Willow, Denali and on up by Nenana and over the Ester Dome into Fairbanks. By then you’re 400 miles from the big town [did I mention that two thirds of the state lives in Anchorage?]. Either trip is incredible, and traffic congestion really isn’t an issue anywhere along the way, outside of Anchorage. In 37 years in Anchorage I’ve driven to Fairbanks maybe half a dozen times, and to Homer countless times. In fact, in some ways I wish I was sailing along the coast somewhere south of Ninilchik right now [except ten years ago it cost maybe $25 for gas for the trip and it would be closer to $100 today].
Eagle River and Girdwood are only 26 miles apart [as the raven flies, over the mountains] but are almost 60 apart by road, but H2H wouldn’t cut the mileage, just the driving time — slightly.
The Anchorage ends of the Seward and Glenn Highways dissipate onto urban arterials. This project would join the ends together into more limited access freeways. Mostly for the benefit of people commuting to work and back from Eagle River and Mat-Su, 98% or so of them in single occupant vehicles. Any way this is done will be devastating for some part of Anchorage [yet to be determined]. Fairview and Government Hill and possibly Mt View take the worst of it, in increased noise and intrusion of unsightly ramps, if the simplest route is selected. There’s less assurance this is the preferred route anymore, now that the Knik Arm Crossing seems DOA [this would have been a third way out of town, but was proposed to land in an unihabited area a ways south of Wasilla]. But any other route would rudely puncture the sanctity of the Chester Creek greenbelt, a rather wonderful stream basin running all the way down from the mountains and through town, and connected by narrow trails running its length and branching out to a nonmotorized trail network that’s without peer in any city of any size i’ve seen. Moose and bears and everything else roam its full length.
Overall, I think we should just chill out for a couple decades. Let people try to continue driving as traffic piles up and gas heads from four to ten bucks. Let’s figure out how to get around better on buses, bikes and trains. One of the H2H flyers I picked up tonight says that $518 million in 2005 dollars is budgeted for this project. And in 50 years, if there’s still cars on the road they will be going 10 mph during rush hour, whether or not we build this “essential” freeway connection.