Crews have completed work on the Kenai Spur Highway extension, a roughly eight-mile gravel addition to the road that stretches from Captain Cook State Park to Otter Creek.
It’s been a long time coming. Prior to construction, drivers could only access the Gray Cliff subdivision, north of Nikiski, via all-terrain vehicle. Those vehicles created sinkholes in the path and led to erosion in the many creeks and streams it crossed.
That damage was one of the primary reasons for building the extension. The Kenai Peninsula Borough earmarked federal funds for the project over two decades ago but could not develop a suitable project scope for those funds, said John Hedges, the borough’s purchasing and contracting director.
A $6 million grant from the Western Federal Lands Highway Division allowed the project to proceed in 2016.
The resulting gravel road is approximately 18 feet wide and extends up to Otter Creek. Hedges spoke to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly about the project last week.
“And that portion of the work is substantially complete. ‘Substantially complete’ essentially means that it could, for all intents and purposes, it could be used by us," he said. "There’s some clean-up items, there’s going to be some things that we need to address in the springtime, but overall the road is ready for its intended use.”
The road has been open to the public since August 2018, when construction started.
The project also improves access to the properties in the Gray Cliff subdivision.
Joe Ross, of Nikiski, was on the Road Area Service Board back when the borough was first talking about the extension. He estimated there are about 200 cabins in the subdivision, many of which are used for recreation, plus additional properties up in Moose Point, about two miles past the end of the extension.
Ross has property in Gray Cliff. He said he was not particularly fond of the idea of a road when he was on the board. But his constituents were, so he always voted to advance the project.
Now, he said he’s glad the road is there.
Robert Dukowitz said it used to take him three hours to get from his Nikiski property to his cabin in the subdivision. Now, it takes just 30 minutes.
On the downside, it’s taken out the element of adventure the journey once entailed. There are also more cars driving past his property than there were before. But he said the road is usually in good shape for driving and he’s happy about the convenience.
The borough has not yet decided how to maintain the road. Ross says the last two winters, property owners have taken to plowing it themselves.
Hedges says there is more than $1 million in grant funds remaining, some of which his team will use to address any damages after break up. Whatever they decide, Hedges says it will need to fall within the predetermined environmental scope of the project.
“We’re limited to what we can do because it needs to land within our original environmental impact statement," he said.
The borough has until the end of next December to use grant funds.