A public open house is being held tonight in Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers in Soldotna to discuss improvements to the Kenai Spur Highway between Soldotna and Kenai.
The meeting is from 4-7 p.m. and will discuss alternatives for improving the highway between Sports Lake Road and Swires Road.
The Department of Transportation has previously met with the City of Kenai about the project, but this will be the department’s first discussion with the borough.
Brenda Ahlberg, borough community and fiscal projects manager, said borough staff will meet before the open house.
“Before the public meeting there’s going to be a work session to just kind of get the nuts and bolts,” she said.
She said the borough’s current objective on the project is just to provide a space for residents to hear what DOT has to say about the project.
Construction would reasonably begin in 2017, according to DOT’s 2013 Reconnaissance Engineering Report for the highway rehabilitation. Ahlberg said she thinks the borough can give DOT input on the project, but decisions will mostly be based on the report.
“They’ve obviously done a lot of work on it, and they’ve also spoke to so many stakeholders that we want to be mindful of what everyone else’s opinions are as well,” Ahlberg said. “I think we’ve got just one small piece of the puzzle.”
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said about 80 percent of the state-owned and maintained highway is within Kenai city limits. City emergency medical services and law-enforcement utilize the highway, making Kenai an important piece in the puzzle as well.
DOT presented the project to the City of Kenai and interested residents in September. He said the discussion on the project focused on two safety categories, moose accidents and vehicle-to-vehicle accidents.
During a study period from 2000-2009, DOT saw the crash rate between Sports Lake Road and Swires Road at more than 50 percent above the statewide average, according to the report. Moose-related accidents accounted for 44 percent of crashes.
Two options presented in DOT’s report are either a five-lane highway, with a two-way left-turn lane between the southbound and northbound lanes, or a four-lane divided highway. Koch said the Kenai City Council’s position is to construct one of those alternatives as opposed to building left-turn pockets at six intersections or the three-lane alternative, which has a two-way left-turn lane through the entire corridor.
To reduce moose-related accidents, the two options, which can be implemented independently or together in addition to the highway expansions, are clearing vegetation along the road and replacing it with hydro-seed to reduce moose grazing and lighting along the entire section.
Koch said, in the short term, the city would like to see lights along the length of the corridor.
“Lighting and visibility is proven to be the best way to minimize (moose) conflicts,” he said.
The project currently has $20 million from 2012 state general obligation bonds.
The five-lane option has a price tag of $40.5 million and the four-lane divided alternative is $69.6 million. The combined moose reduction options are priced at $9.5 million.
Jill Reese, DOT spokesperson, wrote in an email additional meetings will be scheduled for public input as the project progresses.
“The public will get plenty of chance for input and information gathering,” she said.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.