Driving through Cooper Landing lately, it’s hard not to notice the swath of trees cut down north of the highway. Or what will become the old highway as the new alignment of the Sterling Highway is built between miles 45 and 60.
This is the first year of noticeable construction on the project.
Project Manager Sean Holland, with the Alaska Department of Transportation, says it’s going well, all things considered.
“We were struck with a fire last year so our survey got shut down for six or eight weeks, and then we come up with a pandemic this year so I don’t know if it could get any worse next year but we’re still making good progress anyway,” Holland said.
Phases 1A and B are the two-mile stretches of the existing highway at the east and west ends of the project that will be brought up to current highway standards. Design for the west end is complete, with work to begin next year. On the east end, the Alaska Department of Transportation is still in the process of obtaining land from the borough and relocating utilities.
For the middle section, the literal big hurdle is the bridge over Juneau Creek Canyon, the largest single-span bridge in Alaska. Holland says the deadline to decide on a bridge design is Oct. 15. Crews are doing subsurface testing now to help determine how best to proceed.
“It’s going to tell us what type of earth material is up there and where the rock is located. To be able to finalize the design up there, we have to understand what the geology is. And I’m going to say that we’re probably 75 to 80 percent done with that drilling,” Holland said.
Drilling and data collection will continue as long as the weather allows, Holland is hoping until November. They’re also trying to beat the weather in creating access to the bridge area and new highway alignment. Some access will be through existing borough and Forest Service roads, and they’re putting in a new road on the west side of the bridge. That likely won’t be finished until spring.
Major work on the new alignment will begin next summer and continue to 2025. Most of that won’t impact traffic, though, just the east and west ends of the project.
“Probably the most intensive impacts to traffic will be in ’21 and ’22. And probably into ’23 a little bit because that’s when we’re going to be on the current alignment. But, really, most of the project, for 10.5 or 11 miles of it, we’re going to be on new alignment, so our impacts to the traffic on the highway are going to be relatively minor compared to most of DOT’s other projects,” Holland said.
Trails in the construction area — Resurrection Pass, Bean Creek and Slaughter Gulch — are open and unimpacted. But Holland says the public should stay off the clearcut for the new highway.
“There’s stumps and they’re going to be covered with snow. So, say, if someone tried to take a snowmachine up there, there’s a bunch of obstructions that are going to be hidden that people might run into and we don’t want that to happen,” he said.
There are two spots open for public firewood pickup — at the end of Langille Road, off Bean Creek Road, and a new spot off the existing highway at Mile 46.5. Four-wheel drive is recommended and you need to bring your own chainsaws and safety equipment.
For more information on the Sterling Highway Mile 45 to 60 project, visit sterlinghighway.net.