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DOT shares progress on Cooper Landing bypass

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

With more than a third of the design complete, the Alaska Department of Transportation wants to hear from the public about its plan for the Sterling Highway bypass, between mileposts 45 and 60.

Members of the public can view the online presentation and contact DOT with questions until Nov. 5. Project staff took questions and comments via live online chat this evening.

There was also an in-person Q&A scheduled for this Thursday in Cooper Landing, though that has since been canceled due to low RSVPs.

The purpose of the open house is for the public to ask questions about and weigh in on DOT’s plan to construct a new bridge across Juneau Creek Canyon. That bridge will divert traffic from the existing Sterling Highway, crossing the Resurrection Pass Trail and rejoining the highway at around milepost 56.

The project also involves reconstruction of two miles in highway alignments on each end, by the Sunrise Inn to the east and past Fuller Creek to the west.

The route for the project was finalized in 2018. Amid delays from the Swan Lake Fire last year and the pandemic this year, construction is slated to begin in 2021 for a 2025 finish.

Katherine Wood, the public outreach lead with the engineering firm leading the project’s design, gave an update in a video posted to YouTube.

“I’m sure that you noticed that clearing happened this summer," Wood said in the video. "The contractor cleared a 200-foot wide area to allow access to Juneau Creek Canyon. That allows us to get the geotechnical drillers up there to gather more information about the bridge design, and it will also enable construction starting on the bridge next year.”

Anyone who travels the peninsula with a car will be affected by the bypass, since it’s expected to reroute 70 percent of traffic in the area.

For some Cooper Landing residents, the changes will hit even closer to home. Project Manager Sean Holland said one of the most common concerns DOT has heard from Cooper Landing is the project will alter their water supply.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people up in the Langille area, Bean Creek area, about water sources," he said. "A lot of people have water sources that are dependent on the surface flow of water, so that’s been good input.”

Holland said some drainages that go under the highway will be rerouted, but that DOT will try to maintain the same patterns people have now.

“Or if there is some impact, that we can't avoid, then the goal is to make everybody whole, and we’ll figure out a way to mitigate that," he said.

He estimated a half dozen households would be affected by such changes.

While DOT is not looking to alter the scope of the project at this stage, Holland said they’re focused on alleviating public concern as much as possible. 

“It’s good to get local knowledge. People know things that we don’t know," he said. "And some of that data that we’ve collected already, through conversations with those local residents regarding the drainage patterns and things like that, have been really helpful.”

Cheryle James owns Wildman’s in Cooper Landing. Her business is located on part of the highway that will be bypassed in the update and she has questions about how things have changed between different renditions of the plan.

“The big swath of trees that are gone, I was looking where it was and that’s not what I pictured in my mind when we were looking at all the preliminary drawings, even the most recent," she said.

James said she’s anticipating business will change during the colder seasons once the project is done.

“Summertime, people are going to stop. I’m not worried about the summer. To be honest, I make most of my money in the summer, because people are out doing things," she said. "But wintertime, the road traffic is what keeps me going, and then also the recreationalists. But if they’re bombing through here to go snow machining up in the pass or something like that, they might not turn off and come here. Whereas if they’re coming by, they might stop for a cup of coffee.”

In terms of how this is all going to look when finished, Holland said DOT has not quite settled on a bridge design yet.

Credit DOT presentation
DOT's video presentation showed this potential design, an "arch concept," as an option it was considering for the Juneau Creek Bridge.

“We performed data collection up around the bridge abutments pretty much all summer, which included drilling about 14 holes that were about 200 to 208 feet deep," he said. "We installed a bunch of instrumentation to track various things. And we’re in the middle of analyzing all that, and that’s going to kind of dictate what our bridge selection is going to be.”

He estimated they’ll land on a bridge type selection within a month or so.

To participate in the open house, The next open house period will take place in early 2021.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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