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Alaska DOTPF Plans Highway Upgrade, Holds Meeting in Moose Pass

Steep slopes, businesses, power lines and trees complicate the Seward Highway rebuild at mile 20.5. Photo by R. Smeriglio.
Steep slopes, businesses, power lines and trees complicate the Seward Highway rebuild at mile 20.5. Photo by R. Smeriglio.

By Rick Smeriglio for SCN –

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities held an open-house meeting in Moose Pass to share information about plans to rehabilitate the Seward Highway between mileposts 17 (Primrose Spur Road) and 22.5 (south of Ptarmigan Creek). About a dozen citizens attended. Mostly federal dollars with some state support will pay for the roughly $50- to $60-million project. DOT estimates that construction will take two to three years beginning in 2018. Important aspects of the project as currently envisioned include

  1. The need to acquire rights-of-way (ROW) from private property owners along the highway
  2. Relocation of Victor Creek trailhead
  3. Disposal of large amounts of fill
  4. Replacement of the Victor Creek bridge
  5. Construction of an anti-avalanche berm at milepost 21

In the Lakeview community between mileposts 19.5 and 20.5 on the Victor Creek delta, DOT acknowledges that it will need to acquire additional ROW. Homes, businesses and trees crowd this section of highway. The highway re-alignment at the blind curve at milepost 19.5 known locally as “Renfro’s Corner” will shift the highway to the outside of the curve onto private property. North of Victor Creek, in the area referred to in the Dictionary of Alaska Place Names as “Muskwa Village”, highway widening will impact private property. I.R.B.I. Knives as well as other buildings stand close to the existing highway.

Project Manager Baski explained that the process of state acquisition of private property for public purposes of ROW begins with negotiations and offers. If the property owner refuses to sell, then the government proceeds to the legal process known as condemnation, “as a last resort” said Baski.

Baski said, “In the end we will obtain that property. Nobody wins.”

Project Engineer Kristen Keifer said that Victor Creek trailhead currently lies within the highway ROW. She said that she anticipated little or no digging into the side-slope to relocate the trailhead or to provide additional parking. The existing parking area accommodates only two or three vehicles and has difficult access from the highway.

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USDA Forest Service (FS) recreation planner, Paul Clark, said via telephone that DOT will pay for the trailhead rebuild and that as currently envisioned, the new trailhead would accommodate five vehicles a short distance north of the existing trailhead parking lot. Clark said that currently, the FS does not contemplate an outhouse at the trailhead. He said that the conceptual plan for the trailhead rebuild allows for expansion to 10 parking spaces. He suggested that cost considerations had reduced plans. Clark said that all timber cleared from ROW across National Forest lands would become available for public use.

Said Clark, “We have some flexibility in how we dispose of the timber. We would negotiate with DOT in how to prepare the timber. We are really working well with DOT. I really appreciate them.”

DOT Project Manager Sean Baski explained that because of steep slopes above and below the highway, proposed widening of the shoulders and ditch would require digging into the uphill slope and removing the resulting fill. Baski said that the construction contractor would have responsibility to find a suitable place to dispose of fill. About 10 years ago, DOT proposed placing the fill on the Lawing airstrip to elevate it. Baski anticipated about 600,000 cubic yards of fill to dispose of and said that the amount could change pending new geo-technical data. He said that DOT has completed about 30 to 60 percent of the design meaning that the state agency knows the grade and alignment and has completed its environmental documents.

Victor Creek trailhead and bridge at milepost 20 of Seward Highway. Photo by R. Smeriglio.
Victor Creek trailhead and bridge at milepost 20 of Seward Highway. Photo by R. Smeriglio.

The Victor Creek bridge dates from the early 1960’s. Current DOT plans call for replacement of the bridge. Keifer said that the temporary detour bridge would go on the east side (upstream side) of the existing bridge during replacement of the existing bridge. This would obliterate the existing Victor Creek trailhead.

Avalanches regularly cross the Seward Highway in a broad bend at milepost 21, an area mostly devoid of trees. Maps and information handed out at the meeting show a 30-foot tall, anti-avalanche earthen berm proposed upslope of the highway.

Katherine Wood works as a project involvement specialist and described the purpose of the meeting as one of sharing information and getting public input. She said that people can comment on paper forms at meetings or can go to DOT’s website and comment electronically. Wood said that the project team responds to public input in the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the project’s website.

DOT will host another open house about the Seward Highway Milepost 17 to 22.5 Rehabilitation Project at the Seward Community Library on Wednesday, October 15 between 4:30 and 7:00 pm. It will also gather public input and give out information at Starbucks in the Seward Carrs/Safeway store on October 16 between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Interested persons can go to sewardhighway17to22.com. According to flyers distributed at the meeting in Moose Pass, persons can refer to AKSAS Project No: 53610 or to Federal Project No: FA-0311(032).

 

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