Residents in Cooper Landing got an update on the planned bypass highway project Tuesday night. In the works for decades, the Cooper Landing bypass would reroute a portion of the Sterling Highway to the north of Cooper Landing and away from current path that closely, sometimes fatally, follows the Kenai River.
Officially, it’s called the Sterling Highway Mile Post 45-60 project, and Department of Transportation spokesperson Shannon McCarthy says it's still in the initial design phase.
“The footprint of where the road is going to go has basically been established, but all of the design features have not been worked on. So we’re really looking for the public to talk to us, give us that local knowledge, ask those questions. It’s a really great time to gather this information for the department and for the public because this is the time when we can make a lot more changes.”
The project will happen in five phases. Field work for the design phase got underway this year with surveying and geotechnical work and will continue into 2021 with things like wildlife monitoring and accounting for cultural resources. Next year, the second phase is set to begin with work starting on either end of the project. The middle section of the route is still being mapped out, and McCarthy says that’s where they’re looking for information about the local terrain.
“And then also what they’re hoping to see in terms of whether there will be passing lanes in a certain area or retaining walls, what kind of drainage, crossings; if there’s an area where it makes sense for a pedestrian facility, either a separated path or a wider shoulder. Those are all things we want to ask about and get feedback on.”
Plans to route the highway around Cooper Landing, with its narrow lanes, numerous and sharp curves and close distance to the Kenai River go back to at least the 1970’s in some form or another.
Locals have voiced concern about what will happen to the current stretch of road if the bypass is built, and how it will be maintained. And there are worries about what the new road could mean for recreation and wildlife, with a planned bridge spanning Juneau Creek Canyon. It would be the longest single-span bridge in the state. The project’s estimated cost is $375 million. The state of Alaska will be responsible for 10 percent.