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Story Last modified at 9:44 p.m. on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ER Lane extension draws crowd

Alaska Star

Closing the newly opened extension of Eagle River Lane to allay local worries is not an option, city officials say.

Anchorage city manager George Vakalis passed along that message to a well-attended meeting of the Eagle River Valley Community Council on Jan. 12 that also drew a slew of high-level municipal officials.

Though the gravel road between Ptarmigan Boulevard and Highland Ridge Drive was built for emergency traffic, the municipality opened the extension to the public last month.

The sudden opening, which came with little notice, spurred a local uproar.

Concerns in particular centered on safety risks at a crosswalk for Ravenwood students at Ptarmigan as well as potential road maintenance problems and future taxpayer bills associated with the wear and tear inflicted by increased traffic on the unpaved lane.

Vakalis at last week's community council meeting took the blame for the fact that the municipality "could have done a much better job of notifying and informing everyone of what our intent was."

But he also said the decision was made "for safety reasons" and will not be reversed:

"Doing away with the road is not the solution."

Anchorage police Chief Mark Mew told the group he got reports in November of children sledding in the road while cars drove it, ignoring signs about emergency traffic only. Traffic included local residents, UPS trucks, U.S. Postal Service vehicles and "apparently speeders of some kind."

Mew said police couldn't enforce an emergency-vehicle-only restriction on the roadway. Officers would have no legal basis to stop someone for "not having an emergency," he said. Plus the people actually using the road for an emergency would probably be speeding and get stopped for that.

"That left us two decisions," Mew said. "Close the road completely or open it completely and treat it like a regular road."

The school "started educating our families" and doing "active crossings" with students as soon as the road opened, said principal Audrey Chapman.

"The city has responded really well," Chapman said, adding that one stop sign attached to another sign has morphed into three stop signs and crosswalks. "It is being acted on. I'm consistently watching it and there are lots of families here tonight that live on that road that also keep me informed."

There was also talk of installing yellow flashing lights near the crosswalk.

Police have since stepped up patrols around Ravenwood, especially around the crosswalk, Anchorage School District spokeswoman Heidi Embley said by phone this week.

The extension was originally required of Eagle Crossing developers because the Anchorage Fire Department wanted a second access to the growing subdivision – in addition to Driftwood Bay Drive – and an additional evacuation route to escape a wildfire or other emergency.

Eagle Crossing holds about 175 homes, with plans on the books for at least another 175 over the next decade or so, developers say.

The extension was originally approved in 2006 by the platting board as a paved roadway with curbs, but Eagle Crossing developers secured a series of delays. Critics now say the road wasn't supposed to open to the public without pavement, sidewalks and other urban amenities required to be in place by November.

At the community council meeting, however, developer Connie Yoshimura repeated her intent to petition the platting board for another delay.

Yoshimura doesn't believe the amount of traffic on the road justifies such extensive upgrades. A recent traffic study indicated roughly 300 daily trips on the road. The municipality is requiring the road be upgraded to urban collector standards, which normally equates to 2,000 daily trips, she said.

Yoshimura also told the group that progress on the road is hampered by a problem with the municipality's claim to property along the lane.

Yoshimura said she has been unable get insurance on the "certificate to plat" needed to build a road in a right of way. Two title companies have refused to insure the certificate, she said. Her project manager (and husband) Ric Davidge said they were told the section line used by the city to build the road "doesn't exist."

Roadside homeowner Bill Hanaway has long claimed that the municipality trespassed on his property to widen the lane.

"We really are at a quandary," Yoshimura said. "We have no intention whatsoever of trespassing on Mr. Hanaway's property. You believe you have the right of way then you should take the responsibility to build that section of road."

Municipal attorney Dennis Weaver, however, said a "full section-line easement exists on both sides of the center line" as established in 1997 and reconfirmed last fall.

Weaver offered to write Yoshimura's title companies an opinion to help resolve the problem.

Yoshimura said she hoped to work with the municipality, but also hoped the city would resolve the situation with Hanaway.

Several council members asked what happens if November passes and the road remains unpaved. Who's responsible for maintenance?

Vakalis said the municipality still expects the upgrades to be done by then but the platting board could change its instructions.

If the road just needs grading or some other "touch-up" then the muni will do it, officials said. But if something major happens, like a washout, then the fix is on the developer's dime, at least until a two-year "warranty" the city applies on such projects.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.