By Jenny Neyman
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is cautioning motorists to be prepared for winter driving conditions — especially this year, as maintenance will be reduced on state roads.
ADOT announced at the end of last week that it would be cutting back on winter maintenance in response to budget cuts.
Shannon McCarthy, ADOT spokesperson for the Central Region, said that the department took about a $35 million hit to its budget this year.
“For the most part we’re federally funded, with the exception of our maintenance and operations. That is all state funded,” McCarthy said.
The department oversees 249 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. To help absorb the budget hit, state road maintenance will reduce the response frequency on its routes based on its priority system. Roads will still be maintained, just not as often or as quickly as drivers might expect.
“What we did in prior years is that we would go out and have an operator working on a priority one and a priority two road, and then his shift was over, we might have him work on a priority three and do a little overtime,” McCarthy said. “That way the equipment doesn’t have to come back to the shop, he doesn’t have to clock out and bring someone else back on. But unfortunately now, we’re trying to cut back on the overtime we’re going to concentrate our resources on priority one and priority two and then on the next shift we’ll have an operator go out there and work on the priorities threes and fours.”
This will likely be most noticeable in prolonged storms.
“If there’s on an ongoing, active storm, we could have our operators concentrating on our (priority) ones and twos, and then their shift might end. And then the next shift, we’ve got to send a new operator onto the ones and twos just to keep those open. So there’s going to be a little bit more of a delay in response to the lower priority roads,” McCarthy said.
Much of the Seward, Sterling and Kenai Spur highways on the Kenai Peninsula are designated Level 2 roads. A stretch of the Sterling Highway, from Sterling to south Soldotna, is classified as Level One. Kalifornsky Beach Road, Funny River Road and the Kenai Spur past Kenai out to Nikiski are Level 3 roads. And many of the connector roads to the highways are Level Four.
McCarthy said that ADOT does sometimes partner with municipalities to help each other out on road maintenance. That could increase this year if city crews want to assist with state roads in or around their communities.
It’s always good advice to drive slow and be cautious and prepared for winter conditions, this year even more so.
“Now is a good time to get winter tires on, and, of course, always making sure you have some equipment in your car — a cellphone and a way to charge it, water, and basic stuff for the road in terms of making sure you have a winter coat and boots if you had to walk for a while,” she said.
To check out the state’s winter road maintenance priority map, visit its website, dot.alaska.gov.