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University Avenue Rehabilitation & Widening

Jump to information about the July 2020 – October 2021 closure of University Avenue during construction of the Chena River Bridge.

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

Chena River Bridge Replacement

Crane operators lift the pre-assembled temporary pedestrian bridge onto pilings in the Chena River in November 2020.
Photo by Jacob Helton, DOT&PF

Contractor Great Northwest, Inc. and subcontractor Hamilton Construction are currently working to replace the University Avenue bridge over the Chena River. University Avenue between Goldizen and Airport Way is currently CLOSED to vehicle traffic and will remain closed through October 2021 while we reconstruct University and replace the Chena River Bridge. In other words, this section of University Avenue will be closed through this winter and next construction season, with the new bridge opening in the fall of 2021. Pedestrian access will remain open throughout construction.

We know that an extended closure like this has a huge impact on drivers, businesses, and residents in the area. The decision to close the road for this extended period was carefully considered. Here are the reasons that led us to this decision.

  1. We must demolish the bridge when water levels are low. In order to prevent the old concrete from contaminating the river, the bridge has to be taken apart carefully in sections. Divers must saw away sections of concrete under the water line from the old piers. This sensitive work cannot be completed safely water levels are high. If we were to wait until conditions were right next summer to demolish the bridge, there would not be enough time to construct the new bridge before winter.
  2. A large bridge with utilities, like this one, takes longer than one summer to complete. First, many different utilities run across this bridge. This summer we needed to relocate some of the utilities under the river and provide temporary transmission lines for others. Then two temporary bridges needed to be constructed—a work trestle that provides the contractor a platform to construct the new bridge, and a temporary pedestrian bridge that will maintain pedestrian access throughout construction. When this is complete, the old bridge can be demolished. After that, the pilings are driven into the river that will support the new bridge structure. When all this preliminary work is done, construction of the new bridge can begin. After the new bridge is complete, it will be the widest bridge in Fairbanks with four lanes, a median, and two separated pedestrian paths on either side.
  3. There is not enough space to build a temporary bridge. The bridge on University Avenue is tightly surrounded by private property and a state park. The state park in particular, where we have a permit to stage equipment starting in the winter of 2020 through the summer of 2021, has strict environmental requirements governing the length of time we are able to occupy that space. Building a temporary bridge for vehicle traffic for a long duration was not feasible in this location.

We know this kind of extended closure is not typical for Fairbanks construction and it has a huge impact—it may have a huge impact on you every day. We know that can be really hard. But we do believe that this is the best alternative considering the many years of delays we would be faced with if we built the bridge in bits and pieces with open lanes. We genuinely appreciate your patience.

Boating and Floating on the Chena River in 2021

Bridge construction at University Avenue and Wendell Avenue will impact river travelers throughout the summer of 2021. Please download and share our Chena River Notice to Boaters and Floaters flyer with anyone who plans to travel on the Chena River through town this summer.

It is very important that you know how to control your boat when navigating the construction zones around the bridges. The channels will be narrower with faster water, there may be hazards in the water, and you may need to yield to other traffic traveling under the bridge.

We expect the Chena River to remain open to river traffic all summer with the exception of intermittent closures of about 20 minutes when the construction crews are placing girders or removing structures from over the river channel. Flaggers and signs will notify river travelers of the temporary closures. Please pay attention to all signs along the river and at boat launches so you know what to expect, and please remember to always wear a life jacket while on the river.

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. Between 2018 and 2019, University Avenue was 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 also completed in 2019.

In 2020, the intersection of Airport Way and University Avenue was reconstructed, including extensive utility work between Airport Way and Rewak Drive. Replacement of the Chena River Bridge began in the fall of 2020 and will continue through the summer of 2021. While the new bridge is being constructed in 2021, University Avenue will be widened and reconstructed between Wolf Run and Geraghty Avenue.

The graphic below shows what has been done in previous years and what is still to come over the next several years.

Project graphic