PURPOSE AND NEED
Between 2008-2012 a total of 24 crashes have occurred on the Richardson Highway in the proposed project vicinity. Studies indicate that safety improvements are needed due to the frequency and potential severity of crashes at highway speeds. The proposed project promotes safe access and supports the continued transition of the segment of the Richardson Highway between Fairbanks and the Eielson Air Force Base to a controlled-access freeway. Additional detail for the purpose and need for safety and access improvements at these critical intersections can be found in the Richardson Highway MP 359 Grade Separated Facility: Interchange Concept Development Memo.
Existing At-Grade Railroad Crossing Conditions
When active, the existing at-grade railroad crossing causes traffic delays; when not active, it still requires some vehicles to stop at the crossing utilizing the pullout lanes. These vehicles, often freight traffic hauling hazardous materials, must accelerate and merge with traffic after stopping. Due to the northbound exit’s proximity to the railroad crossing, some of the same vehicles stopping at the railroad crossing have difficulty maneuvering through three lane changes in less than a half mile to make the existing left-hand exit.
Existing Northbound Exit At-Grade Intersection Conditions
The northbound left-hand exit from the Richardson Highway to the Old Richardson Highway causes safety issues and delays to traffic. The existing intersection configuration serves two movements; Old Richardson Highway to southbound Richardson Highway and northbound Richardson Highway to Old Richardson Highway via at-grade ramps.
The proposed project would construct a northbound exit to the Old Richardson Highway. The left-hand exit would be converted to a right-hand exit to meet driver expectation for freeway exits. Replacing the at-grade northbound exit with an interchange would allow northbound traffic to access the Richardson Highway from the Old Richardson and eliminate delays for southbound traffic. This would serve the purpose of improved freight mobility due to the new interchange ramps and the new accommodations for over height and overweight trucks.
The Richardson Highway is the main route for users to travel between Fairbanks and Fort Wainwright, North Pole, Eielson Air Force Base, and beyond. It is classified as an interstate highway and the speed limit on this study segment is 60 mph. Old Richardson Highway is classified as a minor arterial and connects the Richardson Highway with the Cushman Business Area. Land uses along Old Richardson Highway are mainly commercial with some industrial. Lakeview Drive is a local road that serves a small residential area to the south of the study area, as well as several commercial and industrial facilities.
The Richardson Highway is a critical freight corridor and is a part of the National Highway Freight Network (NHFN), connecting Fairbanks and North Pole with communities in eastern Alaska, Canada and the contiguous 48 states. This road has a large percentage of truck traffic and is designated as an official route for long-combination vehicles. The Richardson Highway supports military operations at both Fort Wainwright Army and Eielson Air Force bases and is considered part of the National System of Interstate Defense Highways and the Strategic Highway Network (STRAHNET).
Multiple planning documents have officially called for improvements on the Richardson Highway:
The Richardson Highway MP 359 Interchange and Railroad Grade Separated Facility project consists of two primary components for which we are requesting feedback 1) the Railroad Crossing and 2) the Highway Interchange. Both components would include roadside hardware, drainage improvements, and utility relocations. Additional detail on the engineering analysis of the design concepts can be found in the Richardson Highway MP 359 Grade Separated Facility: Interchange Concept Development Memo.
The design concept recommended by the engineering team to address the safety issues at the at-grade railroad crossing is a proposed grade separated railroad crossing that would raise the highway mainline over the railroad about 30-feet to provide clearance over the tracks. Reconstruction of approximately 1600’ of highway on each side of the crossing will be required to achieve the separation. The concept would maintain the existing railroad routes and no realignment of the railroad tracks is required.
Adjacent to the railroad crossing overpass, a troop access underpass facility is under consideration. This would allow for troops to cross under the highway from Fort Wainwright to access the small arms range on the south side of the highway. The exact location and design specifications for this project component would be determined during a later design phase based on the needs of the military.
Two design concepts have been forwarded by the engineering team to address the safety and connectivity issues identified at the intersection of the Richardson and Old Richardson Highways: A) the flyover concept and B) the modified diamond concept.
Both design concepts improve traffic safety along the mainline, reduce vehicle delay, and accommodate the planned north side pathway. Additionally, both design concepts would improve roadway operations by eliminating the two primary vehicle conflict points. One major difference between the two design concepts is the level of future access provided to Fort Wainwright.
The northbound Richardson Highway lanes would be reconstructed to parallel the existing southbound lanes to provide space for the new exit ramp within the existing ROW, which would cross over the mainline with a bridge. Over height vehicles could bypass the overcrossing utilizing the interchange ramps. If in the future, Fort Wainwright were to require an additional access point at the interchange, this concept would maintain the degree of access as is present at the existing 3-Mile Gate (right-in, right-out access to northbound highway).
The northbound Richardson Highway lanes would be realigned into the existing median to parallel the existing southbound lanes; both the northbound and southbound mainline lanes would be elevated over the northbound exit ramp with a bridge. Over height vehicles would not have to reroute from the mainline to pass through the MP 359 area. The Old Richardson Highway would be extended under the elevated Richardson Highway to connect to the northbound ramps. Along with the reconstructed northbound exit ramp, a new northbound entrance ramp would be added. Any future Fort Wainwright access would be accommodated by a full degree of access, with only a minor grade adjustment for the southbound entrance ramp.