Winter is here and traffic around the streets of Homer has calmed but some city officials – including members of the Transportation Advisory Committee – are putting themselves to work, trying to figure out how to improve safety on local roadways.
The problem is that Homer finds itself at a crossroads. For years, the city council, conscious of increased traffic and accidents on the main arterial streets, has wondered how to reconcile Homer’s small-town charm with the growing need for more traffic control.
Should the city lean on the Alaska Department of Transportation to build traffic lights at key intersections, like Main Street and the Sterling Highway? What about roundabouts, the type of traffic control that DOT seems to favor these days? Are there any other alternative solutions that would be palatable to the public?
For answers, the council has turned to the Transportation Advisory Committee, a small group of erstwhile folks who specialize in how to get Homerites around.
The committee held its latest meeting Tuesday and spent much of its time pondering the future of Homer roads and intersections.
Public Works Director Carey Meyer attended the meeting. He told committee members that the state has recently acquired nearly three-million dollars in grant money to improve the intersection of Main Street and the Sterling Highway and is interested in building a roundabout there, although the debate over roundabouts versus traffic lights has yet to be decided.
"I think the community is probably in the driver's seat there," said Meyer. "(But) I don't know if we have a consensus in the community about which one it should be."
Committee member Steve Smith said he thought the decision would come down to topography – is there enough room at Main Street and the highway to even build a roundabout?
"There are some real, real mathematical issues with a roundabout at Main Street," said Smith.
Meyer said he was certain the state would do a study and come up with a conceptual design for both options before they moved forward with one project or the other.
Looking at the broader picture, Smith said he thought there might be less expensive , alternative solutions to traffic congestion and safety at other problem intersections in Homer, including building turn lanes on major streets.
Committee member Caroline Venuti said that another way to improve safety and traffic flow might be to make a couple of downtown Homer streets into one-way streets.
"Mostly what I'm looking for is eliminating driver anxiety ... and vehicle accidents," said Venuti.
Venuti proposes turning Heath Street into a one-way street heading south toward the Sterling Highway and making Main Street one-way heading north toward Pioneer Avenue. The solution, she said, would alleviate the troublesome traffic spot on Heath Street where the library, post office and First national Bank all converge.
Committee member Roberta Highland said she is generally supportive of any solution that does not involve traffic lights.
"(We don't want) to end up to be like Soldotna, where you have to stop so much," said Highland.
The Transportation Advisory Committee is just that – an advisory committee – and any final decision on traffic control in Homer would have to be made by the city council and the state DOT.