By Jenny Neyman
An engineer can learn a lot about a highway by studying it — measuring sightlines, marking potholes, researching crash data, mapping drainages and the like. But if you really want to get to where the rubber meets the road, talk to the people who drive it.
That’s the approach the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is taking with a project to upgrade a portion of the Kenai Spur Highway between Miles 2.4 and 8.1, Sports Lake Road in Soldotna to Swires Road in Kenai.
“We’re trying to get some local knowledge, trying to listen to where there might be some problem areas,” said Sean Holland, project manager with DOT, at an open house held May 28 at the Soldotna Public Library.
The purpose of the open house was twofold — to provide the public with information on the project, and to get information from locals on any issues or concerns with the road about which DOT might not be aware.
“If you can point out some specific icing problems or drainage problems, things like that that we aren’t going to see if we’re not driving it every day,” Holland said. “It will help us understand what the priorities are of users of the road. And that will help us with our design, certainly, but it will also help us with the phasing.”
The phasing Holland mentions refers to the biggest roadblock to completing upgrades to the road — funding. The entire project is estimated to cost $40 million, but so far the Legislature has only appropriated $20 million, in 2011. When or if the rest of the money might materialize is not known.
“It’s a state-funded project and with the state of the current state budget, just the timing on the funding is indeterminate. We don’t know when we’re going to get it, or if we’re going to get it,” he said.
So the plan is to design the project now and get as far as $20 million will go. The project calls for widening the current two-lane section of highway to five lanes — four for travel and a center turning lane with designated left-turn pockets at busy intersections — to match the configurations of the road on the Kenai and Soldotna ends. The new roadway would be 78 feet wide, including 8-foot, paved shoulders. The bike and pedestrian path would be retained, though moved.
“Everybody loves the path, so we’re going to keep it. And it’s going to be the same width, it’s going to look pretty close to what it looks like today, just in a slightly different spot,” Holland said.
But the current question is which part to do first with the money available? Should DOT just start widening at one end and see how far the money stretches? Or should it prioritize safety improvements? That section of road has higher crash rates than the statewide average, so perhaps intersections should be addressed first? The road also has the second highest rate of moose collisions in Alaska, so maybe clearing brush and adding lighting should be a priority?
That’s the kind of thing about which DOT wants feedback. Comments can be submitted now and as the project progresses.
“We’ll really keep it open until we’re finished with design but, of course, the earlier we get those comments, the more time we have to respond to them, the better the chance we’ll have a satisfactory response,” Holland said.
Construction of Phase 1 — whatever exact iteration that ends up being — is expected to begin in 2017, and will likely take a year to complete. After that, completion of the project will be money dependent.
“The rest of the funding is kind of indeterminate. It could show up by 2017, and if that is the case, then we will be far enough on our complete design that we should be able to build the whole project,” Holland said.
For more information, interactive maps and to submit comments, visit http://www.kenaispurrehab.com.