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DOT provides updates on peninsula road projects

Work on the Cooper Landing Bypass, west of Juneay
Riley Board
Work on the Cooper Landing Bypass, west of Juneau Creek, in Sept. 2023.

In a legislative town hall Thursday night, Department of Transportation officials provided updates on major Kenai Peninsula road projects, and took questions from the public about road-related issues. The town hall was hosted by central peninsula legislators Sen. Jesse Bjorkman and Rep. Justin Ruffridge.

The event began with a presentation from Julia Hansen, project manager for the Sterling Highway Safety Corridor project. The corridor begins near the Moose River and ends just east of Soldotna.

“It’s a dedicated safety corridor because the amount of accidents for that type of configuration is much, much higher than similar types of roads all over the country,” Hansen said.

In the short term, she said, DOT ramps up enforcement and lowers the speed limit through that area. But in the long term, the solution is to widen the road from two to four lanes.

Hansen said the department is currently re-reviewing its initial plans for the project and taking more public input, while also starting to break ground on roadwork. She said DOT is revisiting possible features to make the road safer and turning easier, like frontage roads and traffic signals. Members of the public suggested different long-term solutions, including overpasses and turning lanes. Hansen said she’s planning for a 2028 completion on the project.

Next, project Engineer Aaron Hunting provided an update on the Kenai Spur Highway project, which is widening a two-lane section of the highway between Kenai and Soldotna. Hunting said his project is well past its design phase and nearing construction.

One change that did happen earlier in the process was adding seven miles of continuous lighting along the project section to the plan, and Hunting credited Borough Mayor Peter Micciche’s advocacy for that.

“We’d previously done an analysis back in 2016 that said it would be good to do that. In the fiscal constraint back in those times, we were not able to do that. However, we have done that, and that was per Mayor Micciche’s request,” Hunting said. “The good news is, we’re going to add continuous lighting, from where it stops in Kenai all the way to where it starts in Soldotna. So there'll be no dark breaks.”

Hunting said the project is being held up by issues related to utilities, but work on the spur will hopefully begin in 2023 or 2024 and continue until 2025 or 2026.

The agency also addressed questions about the culvert at Dog Fish Avenue, under Kalifornsky Beach Road, which has been eroding and bending. Engineer Kirk Warren said the agency made short term fixes last week, and will now turn its attention to longer-term solutions to the erosion.

DOT also heard concerns about salt brine, which has been a major topic in the borough for months. The agency will be hosting a meeting on Oct. 11 to answer community questions and address brine-related issues at 6:30 p.m. in the KPB Assembly Chambers.

The town hall wrapped up with an update on the Cooper Landing Bypass Project, which faced major budget hikes and the threat of delays this summer.

The first phases of the project, which focused on the existing alignment of the highway, are already complete. Now, DOT is working on a nine-mile stretch of the new alignment, which is set to be complete by October of next year according to engineer Sean Combs.

Legislative Liaison Andy Mills said the cost of the project has escalated, but the agency is working on seeking outside grants, and is committed to following through on the project. He said the hopeful completion date is in 2028 or 2029.

Bjorkman emphasized the public interest in the project’s timely completion.

“I think what people are wanting to know — certainly in the Cooper Landing community, as well as people who often travel through there, as we all do — is, is the project going to be completed soon? How long can people count on traffic impacts and delays through that area?” he said. “And when is it that we are going to be free from — in summer months, certainly — traffic impacts because of delays on that section of road?”

The contract for the Juneau Creek Bridge, the next phase of the bypass project, should be awarded by the end of this year, although Mills said the cost of that component is still under negotiation.

KDLL’s Hunter Morrison contributed reporting.

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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