For the past summer, residents and visitors driving East End Road past Kachemak Drive have had to endure waits from 15 to 30 minutes — and sometimes longer — as flaggers restrict traffic to one way. Tempers have flared and people haven’t been shy about complaining.
“My chair rumbled under my butt all day long,” said Kelly Cooper, who lives about a half-mile from the Kachemak Drive intersection. Cooper also owns Glacier View Cabins. “Hence my post on Facebook: I’m done completely.”
The good news is that by today or Friday, paving should start on the section from Kachemak Drive to Wasabi’s Restaurant. The bad news is that though Granite Construction has added extra crews, the project won’t likely get done before freeze-up and will continue next year. That’s what happened the first time East End Road got paved in October 1975, although the end of the construction season came a bit more abruptly. When East End Road first got paved from Lake Street past Paul Banks Elementary School, the project stopped dead in the road.
“East Road pavers race winter,” the Oct. 9, 1975, Homer News headline read. The project was to include paving Pioneer Avenue at a projected $2.4 million cost, though the final cost was estimated to be $4 million. Officially now East End Road, the road first had been called “East Road.”
A week later, the Homer News said, “East Road should be paved as far as the elementary school this weekend — again, weather permitting.” On Oct. 23, 1975, the Homer News headline read “That’s all, folks! Pavers give up for the winter.” Despite a clear fall day, a paving company gave up when its asphalt crusher broke down. A photo showed a partially paved section on one side and another section half paved.
The next summer paving resumed, and the June 17, 1976, Homer News had a front-page photo of flaggers and equipment with a caption reading, “At long last, the pavers are making their way through town.” The paper also had photo showing a break-up scene from April of cars stuck in mud on East End Road.
In her history of Homer from “A Small History of the Western Kenai Peninsula,” 1976, former Homer Postmistress and Homer pioneer Arlene Kranich writes that “the very first road built in Homer was constructed in 1925. It began at Miller’s Landing and stretched two miles in either direction, east and west.” Miller’s Landing is the beach area below where Kachemak Drive meets East End Road.
This summer’s construction has meant planning ahead, Cooper said.
“For me, my schedule is I try to limit going to town once a day because I get to sit in my driveway for a very long time,” she said.
Cooper said she warns guests of road delays and construction. During the day they have to put up with construction noise running from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. or, during special pushes like recent culvert construction, into the night.
“It’s been amazing my guests have been so patient. They have to give themselves 30 minutes extra to get anywhere,” Cooper said.
Cooper also has let flaggers in the area use her bathrooms, a courtesy they appreciate, she said. One flagger even called Cooper to say she had a visitor wanting information on cabin rentals.
“It’s Homer. It’s all you can do to make the best of it,” she said.
The big push on now for the East End Road project is to get culverts finished, including a big one at Waterman Canyon, said Shaun Combs, project manager with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Last Friday he said the project had been set back by bad weather. Granite pulled equipment off the road because it just kept getting torn up.
“The rains pretty much beat them up the last three days,” Combs said. “All you do is make it worse. The next thing you know you’ve got people getting stuck.”
At Waterman Canyon, crews were going to work 6 a.m. to midnight and try to get the culvert installed and a “shoo fly,” or road going around the dig, built.
“That is the last of our pipe and of course it’s the most difficult one,” Combs said.
Before the season ends, Combs said Granite hopes to have some big dig-outs done — road sections with frost heaves that “looked like somebody came in with a huge hammer and busted it up,” Combs described those sections.
East End Road travelers looking for signs of paving should watch for blue markers like feathers, or hubs, down the center and on the sides.
“Once you start seeing those three hubs across, that means we’re getting close to paving,” Combs said.
Although Granite worked an aggressive schedule, raising hopes that the project would be done this year, Combs said that won’t happen. Granite is on schedule with its contract completion date of October 2015 and maybe even a little ahead.
“If everything comes together next year, if we have a decent spring, that would open the door — hopefully — to getting done before August,” Combs said.
Meanwhile, for East Enders, a better road in the future helps get them through the construction chaos. Cooper said she tells her guests, “next year you’ll have a bike path.” This weekend, a big wedding at Second Star, the luxury resort home on Kachemak Drive, means some overflow guests at Cooper’s cabins who can walk from Second Star to East End Road.
“I do have a dozen pairs of knee-high rubber boots I lend to my guests,” Cooper said. “I’m thinking of putting them on the front porch for my wedding guests.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First roads built in Homer, 2 miles east and 2 miles west of Miller’s Landing
October 1975: Construction crews work on paving East End Road, also known as East Road. Paving stops when asphalt equipment breaks down.
Paving resumes on East End Road
Current East End Road rehabilitation project, Kachemak Drive to Waterman Road
Project scope: Rehabilitate and improve safety; build a pedestrian pathway; improve signage, grading, guardrails, paving and striping from Mile 12.5 to 19.6 East End Road and Mile 0 to 1.9 Old East End Road.
For more information:
On the Web:
Email updates: HomerImprovements@spawnak.com