Story last updated at 7:37 PM on Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Council prepares to move ahead with traffic signal

By Aaron Selbig
Staff Writer

At its next regular meeting, scheduled for Monday, the Homer City Council will be faced with a choice -- whether or not to officially direct a $2 million state grant toward construction of a traffic signal at the corner of Main Street and the Sterling Highway.


Photo by Jake Schmutzler

The intersection of Main Street and Sterling Highway, or Homer Bypass Road, is likely to be getting a traffic signal. The light, however, won't be in place before 2010.

The money, originally intended to help pay for the Homer Town Square project until voters rejected a related $8 million bond proposition in March, can now be used for the project. The Alaska Department of Transportation called the spot the second most dangerous intersection in Homer -- behind the since-fixed corner of Lake Street and the Sterling Highway -- in a 2005 study.

At its Sept. 22 regular meeting, the council discussed possibilities for improving Main Street and the Sterling Highway, including construction of a roundabout -- which the state recommended in its report -- instead of a stoplight. Ultimately, council members agreed to go with the less expensive stoplight and directed City Manager Walt Wrede to get a cost estimate.

Although DOT is still working on a concrete estimate and a final plan to install the stoplight, initial projections are the light will cost about $2 million -- the same amount as the Town Square grant, said Wrede.

"The reason for the high cost is you'd have to do a lot of underground electrical work, build new turn lanes, engineering, design and get the proper permitting," he said. "Things do cost a lot today, but $2 million does seem like a lot for a traffic signal."

Wrede added that, although the Sterling Highway and Main Street are both state roads, DOT officials have told him that it's not in their budget to do the project right now and the city would be better off raising its own funds to get it done.

The $2 million in grant money the council may use for the project is unusual, said Wrede, in that it is a state grant that came to the city and may now be used to complete a state road project.

"The council was left with the choice of taking action now or waiting 10 years for this to happen," said Wrede.

Even with funding in place, DOT estimates the project wouldn't begin until the summer of 2010.

DOT spokesman Rick Feller said federal funding in the state transportation budget has fallen off in recent years and the Main Street and Sterling Highway project is not at the top of DOT's priority list.

"For every dollar we have in our spending plan, there are 20 dollars that represent needs," said Feller. "There are more needs than there are dollars to pay for these needs."

In their 2005 study, DOT analyzed 15 crashes at the Main Street and Sterling Highway intersection that took place between 1993 and 2003. Six of those crashes involved minor injuries and one, a right-angle collision involving a driver who disregarded the stop sign and entered the highway from Main Street, resulted in a major injury. The intersection's crash frequency rating of 1.5 crashes per year was "above acceptable standards," according to the report.

"I think the council's priorities are to do something quickly," said Wrede. "That's a dangerous intersection and they'd like to address it sooner rather than later."

Aaron Selbig can be reached at