Department of Transportation to install new roundabouts on Chena Hot Springs Road

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Department of Transportation received approval from the Fairbanks North Star Borough Planning Commission last night for construction on Chena Hot Springs Road. The project, which will begin in summer 2020, will see the installation of two roundabouts on either side of the Steese Highway overpass on Chena Hot Springs Road.

A drawing of the new construction project overlaid over a map of the intersection between the Steese Highway and Chena Hot Springs Road. (Courtesy of DOT)

Currently, the bridge’s abutments, the concrete walls which hold up a bridge, allow for minimal visibility at that intersection. This is especially true during the poor conditions often experienced during winters in the interior. This and other factors, such as high-speed turning through that intersection, have made this area of Chena Hot Springs Road particularly hazardous.

The project, which is fully funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program, is designed to reduce the higher than average crash rate at that intersection.

According to Caitlin Frye, Northern Region Information Officer with DOT, roundabouts are the federal government’s preferred option when planning an intersection. “Roundabouts are not appropriate in all situations, but we do look at that first just because of the incredible safety benefits of roundabouts,” said Frye, when asked why roundabouts are preferable to alternatives such as stop signs or traffic lights. “They have an incredibly great track record across the country of reducing the number of crashes and reducing the severity of the crashes that do happen, so they’re a really great tool to improve safety and when we looked at the possibility of roundabouts at this intersection it turns out they’re a really great solution to a lot of the problems we’re seeing out there.”

The roundabouts are being implemented as a means of maintaining the flow of traffic while simultaneously improving safety in the area. “You will be slowed down a little bit during peak traffic hours, but we think that the delay will be about ten seconds,” said Frye. “So really, it’s negligible for the improvements in safety that we’re getting at that intersection.”

The new roundabouts will be paved with high friction road surface treatments. These treatments are being newly implemented by the DOT and have already been used on projects at the intersection of Badger and Peede, as well as the intersection of University and Davis.

The new roundabouts will also be accessible to semi-trucks and large trailers, and will feature a gate which can be used by semi-trucks with oversized loads to enter and exit the Steese Highway from the intersection.

According to Frye, the DOT has not developed a traffic control plan yet, however, that intersection will not be shut down during construction. Plans are also underway for either 2020 or 2021 to renovate the first six miles of Chena Hot Springs Road.

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