By Ken Smith
It’s been 11 years since the Master Plan for Girdwood’s Town Square development was initiated by the state Department of Transportation and the Municipality of Anchorage. A glimpse of the project’s full potential was realized in the summer of 2008 when Girdwood Place was completed, which included a paved road, pedestrian sidewalk, and street and sidewalk lights.
Some cottonwood trees were also cut down to make room for a park in the center of the wooded area that is surrounded by local businesses. But no gardens, benches or picnic tables would be added until more money was found to complete the final phase of the project.
The DOT was granted $10.6 million in federal earmark funds to construct street and drainage improvement projects to facilitate the economic development of Girdwood; $4.5 million of the total funds were appropriated for the design and construction of Girdwood streets and drainage improvements.
The Girdwood Board of Supervisors, with input from the community, prioritized potential projects based on findings and recommendations of the Master Plan. The highest priority comprised of three roadway segments of the New Girdwood Townsite and Town Square Park. The roads include Hightower Road, Linblad Avenue and Holmgren Place – all dirt roads.
In addition, much-needed drainage and creek culverts were listed as priorities. The three roads that surround Town Square are replete with pot holes and pools of water that collect, especially one large pond that accumulates every winter break-up in from the Mercantile general store.
The addition of sidewalks and street lights would complete the list of priorities in the Town Square design, filling a void of pedestrian facilities sorely lacking downtown.
The delay in completing Town Square construction has irked many in the community, but lack of funding stalled the project. Another Girdwood road project superseded New Townsite development – the paving of a portion of Crow Creek Road.
“The original earmark was from Sen. Ted Stevens,” said Todd Jacobson of the Boutet Company, Inc., who is the project manager for the municipality. “That money was largely used for the Crow Creek Project.”
The Crow Creek Road project was a decision that surprised many in the community who expected the funds to go entirely to the Town Square project.
The total cost to complete Crow Creek Road was around $6.1 million, which left a $1 million hole in the Town Square project with only $3.5 million left to complete the Girdwood Streets and Drainage Improvements project, which also includes Olympic Mountain Loop Road.
The cost to complete the Olympic Mountain Loop Road project is estimated at $1.3 million, which would include paving the road, building additional parking spaces and adding drain storms and culverts. That project is now slated to begin next summer.
A state grant was approved in the 2010 Capital Budget by the Legislature for $2.5 million to the Anchorage Economic Development Center as the Girdwood Economic Development Block Grant to provide funding to complete both Town Square and Olympic Mountain Loop. From that grant, $1 million was allocated for the Town Square project, and the $1.3 million for Olympic Mountain Loop.
Anchorage-based Construction Unlimited, Inc. was awarded the Town Square contract by the DOT after a low-bid application process was held. Construction Unlimited came in with a low bid of $2,830,000.
With money in place, the final phase of construction will begin this month and be completed at the end of the summer. The project is extensive with all three roads to be paved, sidewalks and crosswalks built, and street and pedestrian lights installed to match Girdwood Place. However, the streetlights won’t be as tall as those placed along Girdwood Place, which were not well received by GBOS and community members. Those lights will be taken down this summer and replaced with shorter lights.
In total, 15 street lights will be installed on the three roads, 20 to 25 feet tall with a rock foundation. Thirteen pedestrian lights will be installed, matching the ones on Girdwood Place. The two tall street lights at Girdwood Place will be taken down and replaced with one 20-foot street light, and three pedestrian lights will remain, with one being taken down to make room for the new street light. The pedestrian light will be repositioned 40 feet closer to Holmgren Place.
The first phase of Town Square construction will entail the installation of storm drains, likely starting on Holmgren Place and working north to Hightower Road. The work will begin in the middle of this month. Pavement of roads is expected to begin toward the end of the summer in August. In addition to road paving, around 30 parallel and diagonal parking spaces will be added on both Linblad Avenue and Holmgren Place.
“There’s a fair amount of work that has to be done before they can pave,” said Alan Drake, project manager for the DOT. “That work includes storm drain systems; there’s some utility work, and we have to put in curves and sidewalks. We’re looking at excavating and removing the existing road material and replacing it with cleaner, non-frost susceptible gravel. That helps with the stability of the road and drainage. Once that part’s done, then we’ll pave it for the finished product. The significant improvement will be that it will eliminate that ponding that shows up in front of the Merc.”
Town Square Park work has already started with the clearing of trees which had to be done prior to the migratory bird window of May 1, said Jacobson.
Town Square Park will be the centerpiece of the project with park benches, gardens and trails that connect to the sidewalks of each of the four roads.
“I think it’s going to be a great facelift,” said Jacobson. “It’s going to be a really user friendly park, especially in the summer. I think it will be an attraction.
“Construction should start again once load limits are lifted approximately May 15, at which time, you can expect full-blown construction to begin. Final construction is expected to be completed at the end of August.”
Jacobson said the only time construction will stop is during Forest Fair July 6-8.