Regardless of how the tourism season shapes up, Cooper Landing will have over 100 new faces this summer.
They’ll be in town to work on the Sterling Highway bypass project, the plan to divert traffic between mileposts 45 and 60 of the highway up to a bridge across Juneau Creek Canyon. Construction is ramping up on the project this summer.
DOT has put out a bid for a contractor to build a realignment on the west end of the project. Project Manager Sean Holland said that part of the project will widen two miles of the highway on the mountain side.
“If it’s not the most difficult piece of the project, it’s pretty close," he said. "The reason is, we have two really narrow lanes there. And if you can picture that area, it’s really tight there between the mountain and the river. And so for us to maintain traffic through there and do all that work in the same months that everybody’s trying to go between the Kenai and Anchorage to recreate is a challenge.”
But he said it’s an unavoidable challenge.
“Construction weather is the same type of weather that people like to get out and recreate," he said.
He said they’ll try to do the work during off hours, like at night and during the week. When construction is underway, it’ll likely be diverted to a one-way lane, with a flagger.
They’ll later do the same thing for the east part of the highway. The east-side realignment won’t be put out to bid until next summer, since they have to do more excavation over there.
Part of the project goes through cultural sites, which include buried Dena’ina artifacts. Holland said DOT has planned the highway around those sites as much as possible. For those that it can’t avoid, DOT sent archaeologists last summer to investigate.
“This summer, we know which sites we’re going to impact, so we’re going to have a much bigger group of archeologists go up and do some data recovery, where they actually go and excavate and gather the artifacts," Holland said.
DOT hopes to bring in about 45 archaeologists to do those excavations this summer, including archeologists with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. He said the artifacts will be sent to the University of Fairbanks.
DOT has also selected a bridge type for the project — a steel deck arch bridge. It’s the kind of bridge the Alaska Railroad owns in Hurricane Gulch.
Holland said that bridge will take about three years to complete. First, DOT has to widen the access road up to the bridge so it can get cranes up there. It also has to start building the slots for the bridge’s foundation this year.
It’s a lot of work. But Holland said, besides the west-side realignment, most of the construction will be unnoticable from the road.
“Other than there’s gonna be a lot of people that are working on the project in Cooper Landing this summer," he said.
He said it will be largely up to the contracted companies to find housing for their employees.