Anchorage Launches Site to Track Road Projects, Special Events

The site was released to the public Thursday after several months of being used internally, and is designed as a reporting tool to improve coordination.

by Devin Kelly, McClatchy News Service / August 22, 2014
Anchorage, Alaska Flickr/Wonderlane

In 2013, The Color Run, the Alaska Pride Fest parade and a major construction-related road closure near downtown Anchorage all happened on the same mid-June Saturday.

From a city traffic engineer’s perspective, that was the definition of a planning muddle.

“We were looking at this, going, ‘Oh my gosh, all these closures restricting access coming into the downtown area,’ ” said Stephanie Mormilo, municipal traffic engineer.

The municipality is now banking on avoiding those kinds of logistical nightmares through a new mapping website.

The site is hosted by a right-of-way management company called Envista and was released to the public Thursday after several months of being used internally. It gives a snapshot of current and future road construction projects and closures, including stormwater drainage projects, road rehabilitation and cable replacements.

Large special events that could affect traffic flow also show up on the site. For example, on the map near Moose’s Tooth Pizzeria, an icon shows up saying that on Aug. 28, “Old Seward Hwy. will be CLOSED between 33rd Ave. and 34th Ave. for a Moose’s Tooth event.”

Each project or event, symbolized by a small icon, includes the name and contact information of a project manager. It also shows the start and stop dates, and lists the project’s status (like “Planned” or “Started”).

The software cost $57,000, plus a $3,000 implementation fee, said Public Works Director Ron Thompson, who called it a “screaming deal, for what it’s doing for us.” The city will pay an annual fee of $12,500 for a three-year contract. It replaces an earlier system of listing current projects on Google Maps. At this point, no mobile version of the application exists.

Officials said the site is designed as a reporting tool to improve coordination. The agencies looped into the site, which is licensed for the Municipality of Anchorage, include the Anchorage Public Works Department; utility companies; the city’s police, fire and parks departments; and the state Department of Transportation.

In the future, officials expect to provide real-time information about road closures that are related to accidents or police or fire activity.

As local events like the Mayor’s Marathon have grown in size in recent years, officials have seen more overlap with road projects and closures, especially in the summer months.

“There was incomplete coordination between all the entities in the municipality to be able to ... see what was going on,” Thompson said.

Now, when a coordinator for an event files for a permit through the city traffic division, an engineering technician entering the date into the program will be able to see if it conflicts with a major project or road closures.

“The sooner people can let us know about big events, the better,” said Mormilo, whose division is in charge of special activity permits.

Internally, Thompson said the goal is for different departments to avoid overlap, like a road construction team accidentally paving over a water project completed a week earlier.

Coordination meetings have helped reduce those inadvertent tangles but the Envista software now sends out automated emails to all the entities involved in a given project, he said.

©2014 the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska)