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Intersection work to wind down for winter, resume in spring, DOT says

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
Contractors will wind down this season's work on the intersection of Gaffney Road, Airport Way, and the Richardson and Steese Highways over the few weeks, then get back to work on the project next spring.

Work will be winding down for the winter soon on the big intersection project at the Airport Way and the Richardson and Steese Highways. State Department of Transportation officials say the intersection will look a lot like it did before the project began this summer.

Work began in June on the GARS intersection project -- that’s the acronym for the place where Gaffney Road, Airport Way and the Richardson and Steese highways converge. But the contractor will soon be mothballing the project for the winter, which will leave the intersection with pretty much the same configuration that it was before the project began.

“The winter configuration is going to look exactly the same as it’s looked the whole time,” says Danielle Tessen, a Transportation Department spokesperson.

“We’re not changing anything up,” she said in an interview last week. “You’ll go through that intersection just as you always have.”

Tessen says the contractor, Fairbanks-based HC Contractors, has already begun work in preparation of the winter shutdown, like finishing-up some of the on-and off-ramps that’ll soon be closed until spring.

“So you might see pavement that is laid, but the lanes are not open yet and that’s because we’re going to try and do some of that striping,” she said.

When the GARS project is completed next summer, it will include several on- and off-ramps intended to minimize the chances of wrecks. And the intersection will have new bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Tessen said in an email Tuesday that the DOT may begin opening traffic lanes during the first week of October, at the earliest, beginning with right turn lanes.

She said striping will begin this week, and the last of this season’s paving will start this weekend. She says contractors are still working on sidewalks, medians and light poles and are adjusting traffic signals for winter configuration.

“We're going to have the roadway (asphalt only) fully constructed by the end of the month,” Tessen said in the email. “After that, it’ll primarily be work in the medians or along the shoulder. We’re expecting to be working through October, as long as weather permits.

Fort Wainwright spokesperson Eve Baker says post officials are waiting for DOT to provide a more precise timeframe for the winter shutdown. But she says at that time, the hours of operation for the Main Gate on Gaffney and Wainwright’s other gates will revert to their previous schedules.

“The Richardson Gate will be closed entirely,” she said Monday. “The Main Gate will revert to its 24/7 operations, with the Visitors Center located at the Main Gate all the time. And then, Badger and Trainer will go back to their previous hours as well.”

DOT is reconfiguring the GARS intersection to make it safer and more efficient. The agency says the intersection is the second-busiest in Fairbanks, with more than 35,000 vehicles passing through it daily. That’s more than the intersection was designed to handle, which is one reason why it’s always among the worst in town for injury-causing wrecks. DOT says the new configuration will reduce the number of those crashes, mainly by changing the way drivers make left turns there.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.