Knik Arm Bridge will ease pressure on community and transportation links
Many of us choose to live in the Chugiak-Eagle River area because it’s just outside of the hustle and bustle of the big city, we have larger lots and more space, and we have that rural feeling we’re looking for. But some of that rural feeling is wearing off — our population is increasing and according to the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS), the local transportation planning organization, we can expect to see more growth in the next 25 years. The Knik Arm Bridge could help relieve some of the pressures that come with this expanding population — by shifting some of the rapid growth to available land in the Point MacKenzie area.
AMATS draft 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), using ISER’s 2009 economic and demographic projections, states that the Chugiak-Eagle River area will sustain a 74 percent growth in 25 years, the largest amount of growth in the Anchorage area and the second largest rate of growth for the region, just behind the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. The MTP goes on to state: “The Anchorage Bowl will remain the dominant source of employment for the Southcentral Alaska region, supplying more than 70 percent of the region’s jobs in 2035. This economic relationship results in a strong regional traffic pattern with a large percentage of residents in the fast growing Mat-Su Borough and Chugiak-Eagle River areas commuting to jobs in the Anchorage Bowl.”
It is helpful to put into perspective how our community has grown over the years. In the 1950’s the Chugiak-Eagle River area was sparsely populated, but as the population moved northward along the Glenn Highway, the area boomed. During Alaska’s rapid economic expansion from 1980 to 1985, Chugiak-Eagle River’s population grew 95 percent, over twice as much as Anchorage. And now, based on current population projections, we’ll grow another 74% over the next 25 years, from 35,000 in 2010 to 61,000 by 2035.
This growth has continued northward up the Glenn and onto the Parks Highway. In the 1960’s the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (MSB) was home to about 5,000 people. Like Eagle River, the area has experienced phenomenal growth. In 2010 the actual Census showed the population at nearly 89,000. AMATS draft MTP estimates a 119% growth in the MSB population in the next 25 years to 190,000.
With growth comes traffic. Estimates show that the Glenn Highway traffic will increase from approximately 52,000 vehicles daily at the weigh station to approximately 110,000 vehicles by 2035. The building of the Knik Arm Crossing would help alleviate traffic pressure on the Glenn Highway and provide for regional growth in a smart way. First, it opens up developable land in close proximity to Anchorage allowing for commercial and residential development. Second, it allows northbound Port of Anchorage freight traffic to bypass downtown Anchorage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and wear and tear on city streets and the Glenn Highway. Third, the project will leverage private investment to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the bridge. By using this innovative approach to financing, we will preserve Alaska’s scarce federal transportation funding for other state and local priorities. Additionally, excess revenue generated from tolls can be used on other transportation projects statewide. The project will spur the regional economy by creating 1,500 jobs every year for four years of construction and thousands more through the economic development on the Mat-Su side. It also creates a second route for use in emergencies and as an evacuation route.
Alaska has a great future, and when we think about how we want to see our community develop, let’s include constructing the Knik Arm Bridge as a way to relieve pressure on our roads and highways and provide another area for Alaska’s growing population.
Eagle River’s Mike Foster is chair of the Knik Arm Bridge And Toll Authority board of directors.