Paramedics see summer spike in Glenn Highway incidents

Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - 12:33
  • A member of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department sprays down a vehicle that caught fire July 15, 2017 on the Glenn Highway near the North Peters Creek exit. The highway was fully open by 8:15 p.m. Firefighters said there were no injuries in the blaze. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A tow truck drivers works to clean up the scene of a four-car pileup on the Glenn Highway at the Airport Heights intersection on Friday, June 9, 2017. The Suburban pictured could be seen driving down the highway with its hood on the windshield shortly before the wreck. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Anchorage police and paramedics respond to a multi-vehicle crash on the Glenn Highway on August 1, 2017. The collision — about a mile north of the North Eagle River exit — temporarily delayed outbound traffic on the Glenn Highway and the Old Glenn Highway. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Summer is in full swing, and the usual seasonal traffic troubles continue to cause problems for drivers along the Glenn Highway.

The first few miles alone have seen an increase in crashes this summer, according to data from the Anchorage Fire Department. Between May and August, between Muldoon Road and the North Eagle River exit, AFD paramedics responded to six separate incidents, according to AFD district chief Erich Scheunemann. The number is three times as high as the number reported over the same period in both 2015 and 2016, the district chief said.

While those crashes represent a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of calls to which AFD responds annually, incidents on the highway can have an outsized impact, sparking road closures and traffic delays affecting thousands of Alaska drivers.

On August 4, the morning commute slowed to a crawl after a rollover crash in a southbound lane near the Eklutna Exit, according to the Anchorage Police Department. On August 1, a multi-car crash just north of the North Eagle River exit backed traffic up for miles. Two weeks before that, a vehicle fire near Peters Creek briefly blocked southbound traffic entirely.

North of the North Eagle River exit, crashes and other emergencies are handled by the Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, whose territory extends all the way to the Knik River Bridge. Between May and August, the department responded to approximately 21 vehicle crashes throughout Chugiak-Eagle River, according to CVFRD data. While the department was unable to immediately provide data on the specific number of Glenn Highway crash responses, incidents on the highway occur regularly, CVFRD officials said.

“One of the things that happens is if there is an accident on the highway, we see a high rate of secondary incidents,” said Virginia McMichael, CVFRD operations chief.

According to the Alaska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office, between 2011-2015, the Anchorage area led the state in the number of fatal crashes, the majority of which took place on arterials like the Glenn Highway. Most of those fatal crashes took place on dry roads in the summer months, according to DOT data.

Where the Glenn Highway winds through Chugiak-Eagle River, crashes seem to cluster near the North and South Birchwood exits, the Eklutna exit, the Hiland Road exit and the Arctic Valley exit, AFD and CVFRD officials said. Fatal crashes seem to take place more frequently in the late evening hours, according to the Alaska Highway Safety Office, but other, less serious incidents happen at all hours of the day, emergency responders said.

While the causes are varied – everything from single-car rollovers to collisions with wildlife – CVFRD paramedics are optimistic the numbers will improve once ongoing road repairs (which will remove troublesome grooves or “ruts” in the pavement) are completed.

“Now that they’re paving the road, it’s getting better,” McMichael said.

For up-to-date information on road closures and traffic delays along the Glenn Highway, visit 511Alaska.gov.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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