A grassroots effort to improve the highways connecting Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula idled forward Tuesday in the state’s largest city.
Girdwood 2020, the primary facilitator of the Seward and Kenai Peninsula Highway Transportation Corridor Safety Initiative, held its second summit to gather a group of proactive stakeholders to advocate for safer roadways.
“Our group understands that to do the whole corridor (from Anchorage to Girdwood) would be a monumentally expensive project,” said Diana Stone Livingston, Girdwood 2020 co-chair. “We’re hoping to focus on the most dangerous portions of the highways.”
State officials gathered at the summit and relayed their involvement in improving safety on Southcentral’s scenic byways. As the facilitator continues to gather interested members, state agencies like the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities moves forward with their own projects.
Girdwood 2020 plans to have gathered enough stakeholders by year’s end. In January, the newly formed group will hold its first meeting. Livingston said the group aims to take its message to decision makers on the local, state and federal levels.
The Anchorage bowl summit was important to forming the larger group, as the city’s population “are the people who use the roadways.” The summit mirrored a similar gathering earlier this year in Soldotna, Livingston said.
Three political entities on the Peninsula — the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kenai City Council and Soldotna City Council — passed resolutions supporting the initiative.
The resolution recognizes a number of roadway issues, among them:
■ The Seward and Sterling Highways are among the most critical and heavily traveled roadways in the state.
■ Geography, weather and roadway configurations combine to make the highways from Anchorage to Seward and Homer “very dangerous.”
■ A well-funded and well-implemented plan is needed to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.
The crux of Girdwood 2020’s initiative is formulating a plan for the aforementioned issues and making sure that plan does not fall by the wayside, Livingston said.
Both highways’ dangers are apparent — two vehicle deaths occurred last week.
On Nov. 11, an elderly couple traveling on the Seward Highway lost control of their vehicle and struck a guardrail at Milepost 39. The Ford truck slid off the highway but did not rollover. Emergency responders pronounced the passenger dead when they arrived on scene. The driver was transported to Anchorage of potentially life-threatening injuries.
Then, on Friday, a two-vehicle collision on the Sterling Highway north of Rocky’s Café and the Kasilof Community Church resulted in the death of an 85-year-old Soldotna man. Ice covered the road at the time of the accident, according to an Alaska State Troopers spokesperson.
During the Anchorage summit, the initiative’s sponsors briefly discussed many concerns. Troopers talked about problems causing accidents and obtaining funding for impaired driving prevention. An Alaska Travel Industry Association official highlighted the impact of tourists on the highways.
These concerns and more have been discussed at length for years; each agency addresses them with established plans. Girdwood 2020 is simply pushing for improved advocacy from the state’s decision makers.
Pat Kemp, the Department of Transportation’s acting commissioner, recognizes that roadway projects already planned — some projects as far out as five years — will not change.
“That’s what I’ve been stressing at both (summit) meetings,” Kemp said. “It’s very small odds that we’ll ever get $500 million to fix the majority of the roadways. Instead, it will be $20 million over 10 or 15 years.”
Livingston said she acknowledges that the Department of Transportation plans projects, to some extent, based on the highways’ problematic or dangerous areas.
Many projects are underway, or will resume during the summer. All projects are viewable on the agency’s state website.
And while the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Soldotna garners the most attention, multiple projects on the Sterling Highway are being proposed, designed and constructed, or will continue construction come breakup.
To highlight a couple projects, the agency is developing solutions to bluff erosion located at Milepost 153 of the Sterling Highway. Crews will likely remove unstable material, place new drainage material and construct embankments. The estimated cost of the project is about $525,000.
Also, work began in October 2011 on resurfacing of the highway from the Homer Mill to the intersection of Pioneer Avenue. Guardrail improvements are included in the project, along with other issues like drainage, signs and road striping. The project totals $4.13 million.
The projects affect everyone in Central Alaska, from Moose Pass to Anchor Point, said Livingston.
“We have a lot of interested folks,” she said. “Those people are being asked to show their support and push the safety initiative forward.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.