The 10.99-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway between Soldotna and Sterling has seen 32 fatal accidents and 85 major injury accidents in the past 35 years.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is working to create and implement a plan decrease these numbers.
In 2009 this section of road was designated as a highway safety corridor because of its high number of fatal and serious injury crashes. The segment of highway between Soldotna and Sterling is one of four designated corridors the DOT is working to make safer. Since becoming a safety corridor, law enforcement has been increased, speed limits have been reduced and there has been more signage. With no fatalities since the inception of the Sterling Highway safety corridor, these changes have proved to decrease accidents, but DOT wants to improve safety further.
The preferred solution DOT suggests is to make that segment of road a four-lane divided highway, but there are still a lot of considerations that need to be verified, Anne Brooks, public involvement coordinator, said. The department needs to ensure there is adequate right of way, analyze crash data and consider public input — all part of phase one of the project.
The department decided to try a new method to connect with people about the accident issue for the Sterling Highway. Instead of finding a venue and putting researchers in hotel rooms for a few days of information gathering, Brooks and Associates, hired by the DOT to provide technical support for the project, rented an RV and setup “mobile meetings.”
On July 22, Brooks and Camden Yehle, public involvement associate, parked the RV at Fred Meyer in Soldotna in the morning and Safeway in the afternoon.
In Sterling they met with interested people at the post office and the community center on Tuesday. Brooks said she figures the duo talked to 150 people over the two-day event.
“People are passionate about that roadway because they’ve had near misses,” Brooks said.
Brooks said they heard “lots of great feedback” in Soldotna and Sterling. She said some people have been very receptive to the idea of a four-lane highway divided by a median with a break every one half to one mile. Others, especially business and property owners along the highway have been a little less enthusiastic about the four-lane solution. Their concern is not only will they maybe have to drive the highway in the opposite direction of their destination until a median break where they can make a U-turn, but customers may have to do the same.
Another concern raised was how will bikers, ATV riders, runner and walkers be accommodated. Brooks said DOT has existing right of way along the highway, and the department hopes to be able to expand within the those lines, but will consider alternative options based on safety and cost.
With 21 of the 32 fatal accidents between 1977 and 2012 resulting from head-on collisions, Brooks said medians would help prevent those types of accidents.
Brooks said she received a lot of comments on the Mackey Lake Road intersection, a hilltop intersection where DOT put in left turn lanes. She said many people suggested putting left turns at other busy intersections like Forest Lane and Jim Dahler Road. Brooks said if the funding is available and depending on what the priorities throughout Alaska for traffic safety are, left turn lanes at that intersection may be a possibility.
Other people suggested reducing speeds among other temporary safety solutions before the ultimate project begins, which is a few years away from construction.
Phase one of the project is scheduled to be completed in November. Brooks said people can continue to comment on the project’s website, sterlinghwy.com or the DOT Facebook page.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.