The council chambers at Homer City Hall was a bustling place last Tuesday night, as many citizens came to get a look at new plans for traffic controls at the intersection of Main Street and the Sterling Highway. The room buzzed as dozens of Homer residents made their way around the room, checking out large placards detailing the three different options for traffic control at the intersection.
Carla Smith is a project manager in DOT’s Anchorage office. She says 13 crashes occurred at the intersection between 2006 and 2010. She says that rate is definitely higher than normal, especially for a small town like Homer.
So what should be done about it? Option one is a simple traffic light. The simplest of the three options, the traffic light would cost an estimated $1.6 million and would require some right-of-way to be purchased from a couple of properties in the area, including the NAPA Auto Parts store on the northwest corner.
The second option would be a traffic light with right-and-left turn lanes on all roads. Of course, when you’re adding turn lanes you’re widening lanes and taking even more right-of-way. As a result, option two would cost a bit more at just under $2 million.
The third option – and probably the most talked about Tuesday night – is a roundabout.
"I hope that the roundabout deal gets dropped," said Skip Perk, owner of Skip’s Trucking in Homer.
Perk has been driving big trucks on the Kenai Peninsula for over 50 years. He says the design of the roundabout being proposed is too small for truck traffic and even if it was designed to be large enough, it would be devastating to the local business at the intersection.
"In order to make it big enough, you'd wipe out too many places," said Perk.
Perk says if DOT ends up building the roundabout, he will actively seek detours to avoid it.
Michael Kennedy agrees with Perk that big trucks would probably have a tough time with a roundabout, at least with the way it’s designed now. He thinks a better way to relieve congestion along the Sterling Highway would be to build more north-south connectors between it and Pioneer Avenue, like at Greatland Street.
Smith says she heard from plenty of people who are opposed to a roundabout.
"There are a few folks who are scared to have a roundabout in Homer," she said. "They think that roundabouts are confusing (and) that there's a lot of traffic on the Sterling Highway. But roundabouts are actually easy to navigate (and) crashes aren't as severe as they would be at an intersection."
Smith says DOT does not have a preferred alternative right now but would like to pick one of the options sometime next month. From there, DOT will seek approval of the plan from the federal government and proceed with the design phase of the project, which could last through the end of this year.
Smith says the most challenging part of the project will probably getting the right-of-way needed, which could take a year-and-a-half or more. She estimates that construction on a project probably would not start until 2016 at the earliest.