DOT shares progress on peninsula projects

Mar 1, 2021

Traffic piles up on the Sterling Highway as drivers make way for a family of moose.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Funny River Road, the Seward ferry terminal and a well-traveled stretch of the Sterling Highway are all on the shortlist for upgrades from the Alaska Department of Transportation.

Representatives from the department gave updates on those projects and several others at a virtual transportation fair last week. One of the more long-term items on the docket is a plan to add more lanes to the Sterling Highway to reduce congestion, from Moose River to East Redoubt Avenue, between mileposts 82.5 and 94.

Karin McGillivray, with engineering consulting firm Michael Baker International, said the department plans to expand the existing two-lane highway into a four-lane, with a depressed median and a dedicated turn lane at several intersections.

“Traffic volumes have increased by over 400 percent, from data collected from 1977 through 2006, due to community population growth and increased recreational and tourism traffic," she said.

That part of the highway is a designated “Safety Corridor,” meaning the state recognizes there’s a higher than average incidence of serious crashes there. It’s particularly congested in the summer.

“The lack of parallel corridors to move traffic and the high number of intersections and driveways compound the congestion issues," McGillivray said. "Without improvements, this situation will continue to worsen as traffic volumes continue to grow.”

The department will also add a multi-use pathway to the highway’s north side, construct new frontage roads, and readjust intersections and driveways to improve traffic flow. McGillivray said construction will likely start no earlier than summer 2024.

DOT is seeking federal funding for the project. As such, it's drafting an environmental assessment that will go to public review this spring. 

Most of the state’s programs are federally funded, with matches from the state. DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said the federal government has taken on more funding in recent years because of the state’s budgetary woes.

DOT also plans to start resurfacing Funny River Road in 2022, from mile 2.5 to the end of the road. Project Manager Clint Adler says the department is now finishing project plans and funding estimates. 

“One interesting thing about this project is the majority of Funny River Road, in the section that we’re resurfacing here, was probably last paved in 1999," he said.

Also due for an upgrade is a portion of the Kenai Spur. In an effort to improve capacity and reduce moose accidents, DOT already upgraded part of the highway, between Eagle Rock Drive and Squires Road, expanding the road from two lanes to five.

Starting in 2022, it will make those same updates to the other part of the highway, between Sports Lake Road and Eagle Rock Drive. It’s completing the design of the project this year.

Over in Seward, the Alaska Railroad is making plans for its cruise ship and freight docks, both of which sit in the city’s deep-water port. 

Christy Terry, the Alaska Railroad port manager, said the cruise ship dock is nearing the end of its life.

“This dock was built in 1965, originally for freight, and much of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was brought into Alaska over this dock," she said.

The railroad will partner with a private developer to build and operate a new cruise ship terminal. Terry said it is currently in negotiations with a developer and hopes to start construction in 2021.

The neighboring freight dock was built in 2001 to relieve some of the pressure on the cruise ship dock and separate incoming freight and passengers. That dock is in need of upgrades, as well.

The Alaska Railroad is planning on lengthening and widening the dock, and is looking for both a designer and contractor to partner to figure out a plan. Construction on the freight dock would start in 2023.

There’s also one plan remaining on the peninsula to address damage from the Nov. 2018 earthquake. 

The department repaired 15 Kenai Peninsula sites in 2019 and finished fixing the Soldotna bridge last fall but still has to make repairs at mile 155.5, near Anchor Point. The earthquake damaged a culvert and embankment slope next to the highway. Repairs are slated for 2021.

It’s one of several dozen projects the state has taken on to clean up the damage from the earthquake, totaling about $100 million. 

To read more about the projects and submit questions and comments, visit publicinput.com/U801.