Springtime in Alaska brings green-up and road construction. Cautionary road-work signs are blooming like flowers along Kenai Peninsula highways. Major projects will affect area drivers for months.
Repaving and road rehabilitation are underway out East End Road and on the Sterling Highway between Ninilchik and Anchor Point. Motorists may encounter delays.
Contractor QAP and the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) are also working on a challenging erosion project north of Anchor Point adjacent to Mile 153.35 of the Sterling Highway. While not strictly road work, the project tackles an active slump along the coastal bluff that has narrowed the distance between the roadway and a 200-foot cliff to less than 50 feet.
Greg Davis, the QAP project superintendent, said that while every project has its own challenges, this is the first time his company has tackled an eroding slope of this magnitude. The work should not impact traffic, although a temporary lower speed limit is in effect on the adjacent highway.
A natural spring has undermined the bluff and caused what geologists call mass wasting. The project’s goal is to stabilize the slope and prevent the edge’s creep.
Work crews are removing eroded silt below the water outflow and putting porous backfill and rip rap in its place. The water now should flow through the large rocks. Geotextile fabric will go over the rock layer. Covering the fabric will be fill, graded to a gentler slope and topped by compost, mulch and grass seed. A guardrail will be installed along the adjacent highway. The rip rap is from Seldovia, and the other fill is from a borrow pit QAP has about 3 miles from the site, reported Jason Baxley, a project supervisor with the DOT&PF.
The separate Sterling Highway improvement project involves Mile 135 to 150. Lead contractor QAP and DOT&PF are working on what DOT&PF describes as a “pavement preservation project” beginning in Ninilchik and extending to the Stariski area. Work included replacing culverts near Ninilchik and may cause lane
closures, according to Alan Drake, the DOT&PF project manager.
Road improvements at two sites on East End Road may cause minor delays but no closures are anticipated, said Shaun Combs, the DOT&PF highway construction project engineer for that job.
The linked East End Road projects began last summer and started up again in May. Granite Construction is the chief contractor, with work both in Kachemak City between Kachemak Drive and Waterman Road (Mile 3.75-5) and in the McNeil Canyon area from Mile 12.5 to 19.6, including the 2-mile loop of Old East End by McNeil Canyon Elementary School. The intent, according to the DOT&PF’s project website, “is to extend the service life of the roadway by restoring its structural integrity.”
The most disruptive parts of the project were finished last year, Combs said. This year, motorists can expect delays of up to 10 minutes in Kachemak City, but most will be less than 5 minutes. By McNeil Canyon, delays may be as long as 15-20 minutes. Most of the time, however, at least one lane will be open to traffic. The only time East End will be completely closed is when heavy equipment is moving, paving is being replaced or new stripes are being painted. That is most likely to happen in late June, he said.
In Kachemak City, the project includes extending and upgrading a pedestrian walkway along the road. It will address drainage issues that led to bumps in the old trail. Another aspect of the project consolidates all the utility lines on the road’s north side, Combs said.
The federal government is paying most of the costs for all these road improvements, with the state chipping in a fraction. The price tags for the two area road upgrades are nearly $12 million each; the contract amount for the erosion work is about $3.4 million. The current controversy about Alaska’s state budget will not affect funding for these projects, the managers said.
The other two major Kenai Peninsula road projects scheduled for this year are in downtown Soldotna and on the Seward Highway north of Cooper Landing.
In Soldotna, DOT&PF is installing a traffic light and turn lanes at the intersection of the Sterling Highway and Birch Street. Lane restrictions and flaggers will be present through September.
On the highway to Anchorage, DOT&PF is working with Pruhs Construction to repave the road and improve bridges over canyons and creeks from Mile 54.5 to 75, between the Hope Road cutoff and Portage Pass. Included will be work on drainage, guardrails and signs. Bridge repairs will occur at Sixmile Creek, Granite Creek and Canyon Creek. Expect lane restrictions, flaggers and some delays 24 hours a day Mondays through Thursdays throughout the construction season.
Motorists can get updates on road conditions by phoning 511 or looking online at the DOT&PF’s “navigator” site at www.alaskanavigator.org. Look out for reduced speed limits and workers and equipment on the roads and shoulders.
Shana Loshbaugh is a freelance writer who lives on the southern Kenai Peninsula.