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How The World Wags

Bypass Promenading
By Dave Kiffer


September 21, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - It's fun to see Ketchikan residents promenading back and forth along the newly opened Third Avenue Bypass (AKA 5 Minutes Quicker to Liam's Daycare! ). Having fresh pavement to pound always brings out the good cheer amongst our landlocked bretheren.
jpg Dave Kiffer Ketchikan, Alaska

Whether or not you think it was a good idea to spend nearly $28 million dollars to build a mile of road, it's fair to note that Ketchikan residents have been trying to bypass our fair city ever since Ketchikan was born.

From the minute the board walks began snaking north and south of Mike Martin's store over a century ago, we started seeking ways around them because - let's face it - our little 30 miles long, four blocks wide town has always had access issues.

We have always been trapped between the waterfront (can't block off that economic lifeline) and the hillsides (not enough dynamite in the world to make Ketchikan a traditional grid community). We especially looked lustfully at Juneau's Glacier Highway and Egan Expressway and thought "Dang it, we need to come up with a way to get to the airport ferry two minutes quicker!"

So we've hatched quite a few schemes to help us get around the bottlenecks that ensue when you have 10,000 residents and 15,000 cars on what used to be the busiest two-lane road in America.

At one point Hopkins Alley-Upper Water Street was supposed to be all the bypass that Ketchikan would need. That was why the wooden viaduct was widened in the early years, wiping out the yards of all those grumpy sea captains. But then the automobile numbers continued to rise and when you added in on-street parking the Water Street bypass became just another clogged artery.

As the west end developed, roads through the Heath Addition and the Carlanna area served as neo-bypasses, but if you ve got to drive up steep hills, then come back down to the traffic jam you just left, you haven't gained much.

Even more interesting was the long planned yet never implemented secondary bypass that began somewhere north of Mountain Point and ended somewhere south of Point Higgins. It snaked along bench lands and around cliff sides, always a vague dotted line on all the city and borough development maps. Part of it even got as far as being named Delmar Shull Drive in the area above the West End.

The Third Avenue Bypass is part of the that secondary bypass and it does bypass the southern part of the West End and empty out into the northern part of the West End. But it does little to deal with the real downtown bottleneck, unless you think that Schoenbar Road to Park Avenue to Fair Street to Deermont Street to Stedman Street is really a quick bypass (takes an hour if you get behind the horse trolley!).

The Schoenbar bypass road - which doubles as an Olympic regulation 90-meter ski jump in the winter - actually does function as a downtown bypass as long as it isn't clogged by snow, rain or suicidal skateboarders. But once again you have to go up Bawden to Pine to Forest just to reach the top of the ski jump. And if you really want to miss the downtown congestion the route is Deermont to Fair to Park to Schoenbar and then the ski jump but at least the horse trolley is going the other direction.

If the bridge to the Pennock and Gravina (see hardlink below) is built then you will see a real scramble to come up with some sort of beltway that bypasses downtown altogether, otherwise a 5 minute ferry ride is going to be replaced by a two hour mini Santa Ana Freeway snarl as folks contend with the Downtown traffic gridlock. I can envision something involving a pontoon bridge over Ketchikan Lake and maybe a car-carrying funicular up one side of Deer Mountain and down the other into Saxman but then I always was a bit of a dreamer.

Not all the bypassing involves cars. The idea of pedestrian overpasses for Front Street comes up time and again as the summer pedestrian flows continues to build and spill over onto the state highway. Unfortunately, every time overpasses are studied the conclusion is the same, unless you force people to use them, they won t. So much for the so-called "Foc sle - Sourdough Hardlink". It has been suggested that the only way to force overpass usage would be increase the speed limit on Front Street to 55 mph and eliminate the crosswalks. It is an idea whose time may have come.

Speaking of Hardlink, the most spectacular dreaming comes out when we talk about a Hard Link to Gravina Island and our "inaccessible" airport. We ponder bridges, tunnels, increased ferry service, catapults...just about anything that would make it easier to get across Tongass Narrows in plenty of time to have a good long wait in the TSA lines.

Years ago, my great good friend Pete Figueroa came up with the idea of getting a moth-balled aircraft carrier and sticking it sideways across the channel. In addition to a hard-link you'd have plenty of temporary housing for summer workers and space for an aquarium in the basement. I suppose you could even use the deck for the occasional take off and if it was nuclear-powered you'd never need to build another hydro or electrical intertie again. Strap some modern bow thrusters on it and you could turn to allow the cruise ships to pass through. It's worth giving the folks in Bremerton a call. There can't be that big a market in mothballed warships.

Another option that simply hasn't received enough study is creating access by simply filling in Tongass Narrows. Sure, the federal and state permitting process would be awful, but it's already so bad on much smaller projects it can't be even remotely proportionally worse on something like making Gravina a peninsula of Revillagigedo.

Imagine being able to walk or take a very short drive to the airport. We could use the millions set aside for the bridge to build a brand new port facility wherever the filling in stopped, say Pennock, or at the worst, Nichols Passage. We wouldn't even be talking about revitalizing vast chunks of our "quaint" waterfront to create new docks. The cruise lines would love it because we know how economically pleasant it is for them to put passengers on expensive bus rides, even if they are only short rides into town.

Where would the fill come from you say? Well, even though I did say earlier that there probably wouldn't be enough dynamite available to totally flatten the mountains behind town, there is enough worldwide to get a start on it. Over the years, I've watched the local blasting engineers do remarkable feats of earth moving - frequently farther then they had planned. Imagine the fun if you just told them to "let er rip". We could even help fund it with a lottery on how far some of the chunks would go.

I'd be willing to bet that a least a few of the rocks would bypass Gravina altogether.

Dave Kiffer ©2004


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