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Aerial of project area.

University Avenue Rehabilitation & Widening

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) and contractor Great Northwest, Inc. are widening and reconstructing University Avenue from the Mitchell Expressway to the Thomas Street intersection. University Avenue is a high-volume urban route that serves as the primary north-south transportation corridor on the west side of Fairbanks. Construction of the entire University corridor started at the Geist/Johansen/University intersection in May 2018 and is expected to last through 2022.

A drone looks across University Avenue, down Geist Road from the Johansen Expressway. Reconstruction of this intersection took place in 2018. Photo by Brandy Milles, DOT&PF

Why so much work on University?

The purpose of this project is to improve safety and mobility through this high-volume route by

  • widening University Avenue to include a raised center median,
  • adding left turn lanes at non-signalized intersections,
  • reconstructing the intersections at Geist Road/Johansen Expressway and Airport Way,
  • replacing the Chena River Bridge,
  • adding 4.5-foot shoulders,
  • expanding sidewalks to include an 8-foot sidewalk on the west side and 6-foot sidewalk on the east side,
  • relocating driveway accesses and side streets, and
  • improving Geraghty Avenue and Halvorson Road to accommodate the access changes.

The work for this project has been divided into smaller segments that are being constructed between 2018 and 2022. The work that has already been completed as of spring of 2020 includes

  • reconstruction of the University Avenue / Geist Road / Johansen Expressway intersection,
  • widening and rehabilitation of University Avenue between Wolf Run and Thomas Street,
  • utility relocation and side street work between Geist Road / Johansen Expressway and Airport Way.

Travis Donovan, DOT&PF project engineer, looks across the closure at Geist Road and University Avenue during the intersection’s reconstruction in 2018. Photo by Caitlin Frye, DOT&PF

What is coming in 2020?

Work in the 2020 construction season will begin in early April. It will include:

  • reconstruction of the University Avenue / Airport Way intersection;
  • utility work and improvements to Rewak Drive;
  • access changes on Geraghty Avenue (no left turns in or out);
  • the beginning of work on the Chena River Bridge, possibly including demolition of the bridge.

What will this mean for traffic?
There will be significant impacts this construction season, as there have been in the last several seasons. We know this is difficult for travelers on the west side of Fairbanks, but we believe the long-term safety and mobility improvements will be worth the delays. Here is what you can expect this year:

  • Rewak Drive will be closed to traffic starting in late-April or early-May, and will be closed for approximately one month. The closure is needed for deep utility work that is impossible to complete without closing the road.
  • Following this closure, University Avenue will be closed between Goldizen Avenue (north of the Chena River Bridge) and Rewak Drive. This closure is needed to allow reconstruction of the Airport Way / University Avenue intersection as well as replacing old water and sewer lines under the roadway.
  • Traffic on Airport Way will be reduced to one lane in either direction, but will be able to pass through the intersection with University Avenue.
  • We expect the reconstruction of this intersection, and the related closures and lane restrictions, to last from mid-May through the entire construction season.
  • If possible, we may also begin work on the Chena River Bridge in the 2020 construction season, including possibly demolishing the bridge. When we have more details about whether or not we will be able to begin this portion of the project this year, we will pass that information along to the public.

Why close the road?
We understand closing University Avenue to traffic is a significant inconvenience for Fairbanks’ west-side travelers. We also know we have asked a lot of drivers in this area over the past several years. We appreciate the patience of drivers in the Fairbanks community as we continue this massive project to reconstruct University Avenue. We hope all the work we do now will pay off dividends in the long-run. We decided to close the road for three main reasons: it will cause less delay for drivers, we can get the project done more quickly, and it’s safer for drivers and our workers.

Less Delay
Our traffic models show that the detours around the project with cause drivers about the same amount or less delay than driving through the intersection with all legs of travel open. Even though driving around a project takes a change in routine and can make us all feel frustrated, it will likely save you the most time. Based on traffic modeling with current traffic volumes, we expect driving through the Airport Way / University Avenue intersection with all legs of travel open during construction could delay drivers about 20 minutes. If only half of the current traffic volume is traveling through the intersection, we expect the delay will be about six minutes. If we close the University Avenue legs to traffic as planned, the longest detour around the project is about seven minutes, which is comparable to the best-case scenario during a full closure.

We can finish reconstructing the intersection in one year if we close University Avenue to traffic. If we do not, this project would take more than one year. Why does it take so long to reconstruct one intersection? There is a ton of work to do! The thing that takes the longest is the utility work. We are replacing some very old sewer and water lines that are very deep below the surface and crisscross all over the intersection. Replacing utilities requires careful digging, lots of inspections, and we always run into things we don’t expect. Keeping traffic flowing through a construction site is much less efficient. We have to constantly maintain the gravel surface to keep down dust and fix ruts, we have to constantly shift lanes of traffic around our work, and we can only work in certain areas at a time.

It is always safer for drivers and workers to keep traffic away from construction as much as possible. This is especially true when we are digging deep trenches for utility work. Some of the sewer and water lines under this intersection are ten feet down, which means we have to dig a huge trench to replace them. By minimizing traffic flow through the construction zone, we are keeping potential crashes and distractions away from our workers so they can focus on staying safe and completing their work.

Again, thank you for your patience with this work and all the delays you have experienced. We promise to work hard to make your commute better for years to come.

How are you protecting workers from COVID-19?

We are committed to preventing the spread of COVID-19 among our workers and throughout the communities in which we work. You can learn more about what DOT&PF and contractors are doing to address COVID-19 at our statewide 2020 construction website (coming soon).

Innovative solutions to a big construction project

This project is using the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CMGC) delivery method — this method allows for greater innovations in design and the ability to plan the construction to find efficiencies and cost savings. Learn more about CMGC here. We are working with local contractor Great Northwest, Inc. and bridge subcontractor Hamilton Construction Alaska Co. to develop the plans.

We welcome your feedback and questions and encourage area property owners to contact us.

What’s already been done and what’s to come?

Construction on this project began with the reconstruction of the University Avenue / Geist Road / Johansen Expressway intersection in 2018. Since 2018, University Avenue has been reconstructed from College Road to Wolf Run, just south of the intersection with Geist Road and the Johansen Expressway. Utility relocations and a portion of the side street work was completed in 2019. The graphic below shows what has been done in previous years and what is still to come over the next several years.

Chena River Bridge
One of the biggest pieces of the greater University Avenue Rehabilitation and Widening project is the replacement of the Chena River Bridge. This bridge is past its useful life and requires a full replacement. The new bridge will have improved pedestrian facilities and widened driving lanes. When the bridge is replaced, it will require a closure of University Avenue between Goldizen and Airport that could last through winter. This work could start as early as this fall (2020). We will keep you updated on this portion of the project as more details become available.

Project graphic