Design work is continuing on the Sterling Highway Mile 45 to 60 project, otherwise known as the Cooper Landing bypass. The Department of Transportation’s schedule calls for work to begin in 2020, with the project open to traffic in 2025.
Katherine Wood, public outreach lead with HDR, the engineering firm doing the design for the project, gave an update in Cooper Land on Feb. 25. The project will be tackled in five phases. Phase one is improving the existing highway at either end of the project. Phase two is constructing a bridge over Juneau Creek.
Phase three is creating an embankment on the east end of the project where the new road will leave the existing highway near the Quartz Creek Road intersection and head up to the Juneau Creek crossing. Phase four is constructing the new highway to the west of Juneau Creek to where it rejoins the existing highway at Mile 56. Phase five is finish work — signage, striping and creating a new trailhead for Reserection Pass Trail.
“Our overall schedule really hasn’t changed. The west piece of the on-alignment part of the project will be bid to a contractor this fall to enable construction to start next year. And the east will be bid in 2021,” Wood said.
Wood says there have been some changes to the design. On the west end, miles 56-58, they removed a section of passing lanes.
“The project that was recently rebuilt from milepost 58 to 79 added new passing lane opportunities. So, as a result of that overall evaluation, we were able to remove the passing lanes from milepost 56 to 58 and still provide good passing opportunities at a regular interval,” Wood said.
They’re also adding a retaining wall and shrinking the size of wildlife underpasses to minimize impacts to wetlands.
On the east end, they’re moving a pedestrian pathway to more closely align to the old highway, which provides more separation from the new highway, and adding a pedestrian underpass.
Quartz Creek Road will be the location of a 25-mph off-ramp, and the existing highway will be turned into a frontage road to access the Sunrise Inn, the new Cooper Landing Brewery and property along Kenai Lake.
Work will begin this spring to clear 200 feet along the path of the new highway leading up to Juneau Creek Canyon. The Bean Creek and Resurrection Pass trails will remain open. Any trees cut down will be made available to the public for firewood at designated access points.
“We’re asking that the public stay off the cleared area. It will be an active construction area and, so, it won’t be safe for people to be out on foot,” Wood said.
Designers are continuing to work with property owners to settle driveway alignments, and they’re still tweaking plans for the existing highway at the east end of the project.
“We’re still kind of determining where this frontage road will end. But it will need to allow access and it needs to allow for emergency vehicles to turn around. We did hear some requests from the public to just make this another on-ramp onto the highway and the DOT has decided not to do that. Adding more points along the highway creates more conflicts,” Wood said.