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Assembly supports walkable Cooper Landing efforts

Riley Board

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is supporting a project to make one of its unincorporated communities more walkable.

The long-standing Cooper Landing Walkable Community Project is taking a new step as a major Sterling Highway project changes the landscape of the rural community. On Tuesday, the assembly approved a resolution from Assembly Member Cindy Ecklund to support the construction of a multi-use path for walkers and bikers through the town.

The group behind the project is applying for a grant through the Alaska Department of Transportation to advance, “small scale transportation projects that are important to communities.”

David Story, a member of the Cooper Landing advisory planning commission, has long been involved in the walkable community project. He addressed the assembly Tuesday night, stressing the need for a non-motorized path.

“This corridor will remain a vitally important courier for those who walk along the Kenai River now, and in the future, as it has for the people who have done so for thousands of years before us,” Story said. “Yet right now, this corridor begs a pedestrian to jump the guard rail and enter a land of traffic just to cross Cooper Creek, on one of the narrowest bridges of the existing Sterling Highway.”

On Tuesday night, Story said the support from the borough assembly will be essential to getting financial support for the project. An issue he has faced in past grant applications is jurisdiction.

“Because we are an unincorporated town, the borough is our governing body, and they wanted to see the application come from the borough rather than us,” he said.

Story said a walkable Cooper Landing has been in the works since the 70s, but held in flux by the unknown status of the Cooper Landing bypass project, a long-discussed roadway that will reroute traffic around the community.

But he said the hundreds of thousands of tourists who travel to Cooper Landing’s recreational opportunities, like fishing and camping, will still use these roads, which remain untraversable without a car. Some parts of the road are barely wide enough for vehicles, and it’s impossible to get from one end of town to the other on foot.

As the bypass project comes to fruition, the project is facing new challenges, and new questions.

“The bypass will reduce traffic, to be sure, but it will not eliminate it. Likewise, it does nothing to correct the existing deficiencies, which will remain an impediment for both active and motorized transportation along this route until meaningfully addressed,” Story testified. “Every single resident and visitor destined for Cooper Landing will still use this corridor.”

The assembly passed the resolution unanimously, and Mayor Peter Micciche invited the project’s organizers to consult with borough planners about future grant applications.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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