By Rick Smeriglio for SCN —
Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities plans two rehabilitation projects for the Seward Highway that together may cost an estimated $127 million and will affect Kenai Peninsula general economy and quality of life, especially in Moose Pass. Start of construction lies two to five years away, but surveying, data gathering, and designing have already begun. While neither project has a finalized design, it currently appears that both will entail rebuilding and improving the highway on its existing alignment with no major rerouting. Between 90 to 95 percent of the funding for both projects comes from the Federal Highway Administration through fuel taxes and congressional appropriations.
Milepost 25.5 (Lower Trail Lake) to Milepost 36 (Sterling Hwy. Wye)
Past iterations of this project considered bypassing Moose Pass uphill to the west. According to project manager Cynthia Ferguson, because of high costs and high impacts of this route, DOT&PF has eliminated it from further consideration, for now. This latest proposal leaves the highway through the middle of the developed core of Moose Pass where DOT&PF has a right of way 80 to 100 feet wide. Buildings, utilities, a bicycle path, a school bus stop, a lake, and business signs all crowd the right of way. Although survey work proceeded all through 2015, Ferguson said that DOT&PF “was not certain” if anything physically encroached on highway right of way in core Moose Pass. She cited the need to finish the environmental document before answering questions about encroachment. When asked, Ferguson said that to her knowledge, no adjoining property owner has contested the width of the highway right of way.
Ferguson said that generally, the rebuilt highway would have six-foot wide, paved shoulders in both directions, but not in Moose Pass town. In that zone, roughly milepost 28 to 30, Ferguson declared DOT&PF “open to ideas”. She said that her agency would consider “traffic calming” through town. Without saying that DOT&PF definitely would implement them, Ferguson said that aspects of traffic calming included curbs and gutters, narrowed lanes, modified striping patterns and permanent radar installations to enforce speed limits. DOT&PF currently maintains a posted speed limit of 35 mph in a mile-long corridor through Moose Pass. Additionally, when school starts and when it lets out, the speed limit slows to 20 mph for a short time in a 150-yard stretch within the 35 mph zone. Ferguson said that so far, DOT&PF has not consulted with Kenai Peninsula School District about building school-bus stops off the highway.
According to vehicle-speed data acquired by safety engineer Scott Thomas of DOT&PF, motorists comply poorly if at all, with the 45 mph transition zones on either end of the 35 mph zone through town. Ferguson said that DOT&PF would consider eliminating the 45 mph zones, one to the south about 0.8 miles long and one to the north about 0.6 miles long.
Ferguson stressed that DOT&PF has just started planning the highway rebuild. It has not started design work. An extension of the existing bicycle path, a popular idea in Moose Pass, “was not within the scope of the project” according to Ferguson. She also said that if DOT&PF needed to purchase private property to accommodate highway upgrades, it would wait until it had detailed designs 60 percent complete before contacting affected property owners. Ferguson said that her agency would consider building four lanes to accommodate passing in the milepost 25.5 to 27 zone (along Trail Lake Narrows). Because of numerous private driveways in the milepost 33 to 36 zone (Avalanche Acres neighborhood), DOT&PF would not consider building passing lanes there. It would consider avalanche mitigation structures in that area, however.
DOT&PF plans a meeting in May or June of 2016 in Moose Pass about this project. Contact email@example.com or Cynthia.Ferguson@alaska.gov for further information or go to www.sewardhighway25to36.com to leave comments.
Milepost 17 (Primrose Spur) to Milepost 22.5 (Kenai Lake Overlook)
Since the last DOT&PF meeting in October of 2014, the project has progressed to 75 percent design completion and has received some $1.1 million to purchase private property to accommodate planned shifts of alignment along the existing right of way. Project Engineer Kristen Keifer said that her agency “felt fairly confident” about the new design.
South of Victor Creek (milepost 20), curve straightening will shift the proposed realignment westward onto existing private property. North of Victor Creek, near an established business, alignment will shift uphill eastward to accommodate benching the highway into steep slopes above Kenai Lake. Keifer said that DOT&PF has already contacted many affected property owners about the potential for public acquisition of their land. She also said that her agency has not yet contacted all such property owners.
According to DOT&PF literature, the department plans to completely replace the Victor Creek Bridge. It plans to only re-deck and install new rails on the much longer Snow River Bridge including the very short bridge over the east side channel of Snow River. Keifer said that at this time, DOT&PF did not know if the project required any in-stream work in Snow River, an anadromous water body. She also said that the jökulhlaup last September may have scoured supports under the bridge or deposited wads of trees against them and so the need for in-stream work may have changed.
Other significant aspects of the project include a new trailhead and parking lot for the Victor Creek trail, an avalanche mitigation berm at mile 21, and about 770,000 cubic yards of excavated fill to dispose of. USDA Forest Service will design the trailhead and DOT&PF will pay for it. Keifer said that the proposed 30-foot-tall earthen berm uphill at milepost 21 would capture small to medium avalanches, but not large ones.