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Task force recommends longer North Road extension

Contractors finished work on the existing eight-mile extension last year.
Sabine Poux/KDLL
A part of the existing eight-mile extension.

The northernmost point of the Kenai Peninsula has been getting progressively more accessible over the past four years. Now, a task force is recommending that access goes even farther.

The North Road Extension is an 8-mile gravel addition to the Kenai Spur Highway completed in December 2020. It stretches from Captain Cook State Park to Otter Creek. The Gray Cliff subdivision north of Nikiski was once only accessible by ATV, and is now connected to the rest of the peninsula by road.

Early this year, the borough created a task force to talk about maintenance and the possibility of further extending the road. That seven-person task force met monthly between February and September.

At a borough meeting earlier this week, Roads Director Dil Uhlin presented the group’s recommendations, which include extending the road as far as Point Possession, the northernmost point on the Kenai Peninsula.

One of the group’s biggest steps was learning about community desires. The task force surveyed residents and property owners about their support of a possible extension, and their hopes for improvements to the current extension. They partnered with local community groups to get the survey out, and did a mass mailing to all relevant properties.

“It asked simple questions,” Uhlin explained. “Are you for or against the extension? If you’re for or against, why? Do you live there? Do you recreate there? And what you would like to see if you did want to see more improvements.”

Around 130 people filled out the survey. The task force found that about 75 percent of those surveyed supported a longer extension.

Many residents said they felt like they’ve paid property taxes for decades without receiving the services — like a road or fire services — that those taxes pay for. They also mentioned that an extension would make travel safer, for both residents and emergency services, and create better educational access for students living in the area.

“This also, in general, will give lots of folks an opportunity to live out there year-round if they so choose to,” Uhlin said.

Based on the survey results, the task force came to the recommendation that the highway be extended to the end of the Gray Cliff subdivision, out toward Point Possession. That’s about 10 miles farther.

They’re also recommending improved beach access, more vehicles pull-outs in low visibility sections of the road and potentially a waste transfer site to accommodate population growth.

The task force came up with a $24.6 million price tag for the additional extension, and those other improvements.

“Obviously it’s all hypothetical, nobody is throwing millions of dollars at our footsteps to do these improvements,” Uhlin said.

They also investigated potential funding sources for the additional extension.

The original 8-mile extension was funded by a $6 million grant from the Western Federal Lands Highway Division. The possible sources proposed by the current group include Federal Government Infrastructure Funding, State Capital Improvement Requests, and other local, state and national grant programs.

Task force member Joe Ross spoke in strong support of the additional extension to the borough assembly.

Despite the area’s current reputation for being a recreation area, he said the subdivision was originally planned as a residential area. According to Ross, there are still borough-owned parcels designated for a school, a library, a fire station and transfer station. That residential community might be achievable through expanded road access.

“It’s been 40 years since the Kenai Peninsula Borough transferred those first parcels into the public’s hands,” Ross said. “Forty years. That’s a long time. Two generations. And there’s been a lot of people who haven’t been able to access their property in those years.”

Now, it’s up to the borough to decide if the farthest reaches of the peninsula will join the road system.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
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