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On the roads again: Peninsula prepares for construction season

Posted: May 1, 2012 - 7:32am

As spring breakup winds down, road construction projects ramp up.

Work zones will at times slow traffic on the Kenai Peninsula's highways in the coming months. State officials are reminding travelers to remain aware when driving this summer.

"When (drivers) spot any workers out, slow down," said Doug Schoessler, Kenai Peninsula Borough's road service area director. "It's similar to speeding in a school zone where there are kids at risk."

The borough's roads department is set to dole out 22 capital improvement projects to local contractors, including rebuilding substandard roads. State-funded road projects already have begun. Both create life-threatening hazards for travelers and roadwork crews.

Last year, a total of four work zone accidents occurred on the Peninsula's major highways -- three on the Seward Highway and one on the Sterling Highway. The accidents were reported as two rear-end collisions, a loss of control accident and a sideswipe, said Rick Feller, Department of Transportation central region spokesperson.

Alaska averages about 80 highway work zone accidents each year, and 85 percent of those who are killed are drivers and their passengers, according to the DOT.

The government agency tracks the accidents through its active projects. The Peninsula is included in its central region, which stretches west to the Aleutian Islands, north to Matanuska Valley and east to Valdez.

A total of 19 accidents occurred in the central region, which is average. The number of road projects influences the number of accidents, Feller said.

Projects this summer are planned for the Kenai Spur Highway and Kalifornsky Beach Road.

The DOT recommends using the state's websites -- 511.alaska.gov and www.alaskanavigator.org -- to check on construction projects before traveling.

Survey work was being conducted on Sterling Highway from Milepost 37 to Milepost 45, causing delays of up to 15 minutes. The work continued until April 30.

The Seward Highway also has a major project under way.

Road construction from Ptarmigan Creek, Milepost 23, to Trail River Road features flagging operations, heavy equipment and workers on the roadway. The DOT is reporting daily single lane traffic. Construction along this portion of the Seward highway will continue indefinitely until further notice.

Feller said his department does not find these two highways' work zones more troubling than others around the state.

"I don't think you can point at either the Sterling or Seward (highways) and say that there is a higher or greater concern there than any other work zones on Alaska highways," he said.

Traffic control plans are established for each project. Scheduling construction during the evening, or hours when less traffic congestion is projected, helps keep the rate of accidents flat, Feller said.

The borough roads department's 22 planned projects are scattered throughout Kenai and Soldotna, as well as outlying communities. Contract workers handle all roadwork in the borough. The roads department employs five road inspectors who assign projects and maintenance to the contractors.

The borough requires the construction companies to follow safety protocol. How the companies implement safety measures is up to them. They aren't required to purchase a list of specific gear, Schoessler said.

Over the past few years, the department has addressed clearing drainage ditches along the borough's roads. This often is deferred upkeep, Schoessler said.

However, due to the record snowfall this winter, digging and clearing ditches has been postponed.

"The weather this winter was so heavy it definitely depleted our funds for much of the summer maintenance," Schoessler said.

This means less road crews working in subdivisions where much of the drainage clearing was done, he added.

Additional work -- minor road repairs, grading, clearing right-of-ways, sign installation and culvert clearing -- will continue.

The department's budget for fiscal year 2012 is $4.48 million.

Monies are allocated through the DOT to local law enforcement agencies. Using project funds, the department supplements the Alaska State Troopers or police department budgets to help pay for overtime. This allows officers to be stationed at work zones, Feller said.

"They provide a visual deterrent, and they also provide immediate enforcement of the law," he said.

Between 1982 and 2010, work zone accidents in Alaska resulting in fatalities dropped by 0.6 percent. Nationally, the accidents have increased by 1.65 percent annually, according to the DOT.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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