- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Dennis DeWinter’s workday typically begins around 6 a.m., when he leaves his home in Palmer to catch the ride-share program van for a 45-mile drive into Anchorage for his job at a printing company.

The $150-per-month option is much cheaper than what he would otherwise have to spend on gas, he said, and it is “stress-free.”

“I can nap, read, relax,” he said, adding later: “It’s a huge benefit.”

But for all the benefits, DeWinter is in a small group. The number of workers 16 and older who carpool or take public transit to work in the Anchorage area takes a back seat to those who commute alone, according to U.S. Census numbers. The most recent numbers from 2013 show solo commutes continue to be the most common means of getting to work, followed distantly by carpooling and with public transit even further behind. Each estimate came with a margin of error, as high as nearly 5,060 for solo drivers. There was no breakout for those who walked or biked to work.

Commuter data compiled by The Associated Press looked at U.S. metro areas with at least 100,000 people. In Alaska, only Anchorage fits that bill.

While traffic can get clogged in main thoroughfares, the mean commute times for the area are below the national average. Anchorage commuters spend about 23 minutes getting to work, compared to the mean travel time of nearly 26 minutes nationally. But it’s a longer commute than in other smaller population groups, between 100,000 to 499,999. The lowest estimated mean travel times were less than 17 minutes, around Lubbock, Texas, and Fargo, North Dakota. On the high end, it was about 31 minutes.

City and state officials are looking at ways to improve Anchorage-area traffic flows. The census estimates continued growth through 2020 in the Anchorage metro area, Alaska’s largest.

The state transportation department is working to widen a section of road known for bottlenecks on the Glenn Highway heading out of Anchorage, near the suburb of Eagle River, to keep up with current demands, department spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said. The state is also looking at possible improvements that could come in the future, she said.

A passing lane is being added on a section of the Seward Highway, and other projects are in design, she said. The highway, which goes to the Kenai Peninsula and is known for safety concerns, sees a lot of congestion during the summer tourist season.

The municipality of Anchorage in recent years has added turn pockets and made other improvements at busier areas, and it is assessing delays and congestion at intersections to see how existing systems are working, city transportation planning manager Craig Lyon said. The city has a long-range transportation plan and a plan to address pedestrian and bicyclist needs, he said. The city also is touting the bus as an option.

“We’re doing fairly well,” he said, adding later: “That doesn’t help the person who’s stuck in traffic at 4:30 up here, but we’re not on I-5 at 3:30 on a Tuesday stuck forever, so we’re doing alright comparatively speaking.”

The city, which supports the contractor-run ride-share program that DeWinter takes, is launching a share-the-road campaign geared toward motorists and bicyclists. Lyon said that with the advent of fat-tire bikes, which help provide stability in icy, snowy conditions, more people are commuting by bike year-round.

Lindsey Hajduk of Anchorage bikes her daily commute of about 4 miles. If she drove, it would only take a few minutes. But jumping on the bike is a great way to start the day, she said, and she likes to take a longer, more scenic route home.

Hajduk is part of Bike Anchorage, a volunteer organization that advocates for safe roads. Anchorage still has a way to go in that regard, she said.

As for DeWinter, he isn’t carless. He drives to work on Mondays and keeps his car in Anchorage during the week, since he needs to be able to get around for work. He drives home on Fridays.

Over the years, he said, traffic has gotten worse. He and his wife have talked, fleetingly, about moving to Anchorage. They like the extra space and sense of community in Palmer. And while his days can get long, he doesn’t mind his commute in the 13-passenger ride-share van.

“I would rather be on the van than drive in myself,” he said.

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