Multiple aerial maps spread out on tables and six different highway designs propped up on stands gave people a birds-eye view of the safety issue on an 11-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway as well as possible ways to decrease the number of accidents.
About 40 people attended a meeting and shared their concerns and ideas about the Sterling Highway Safety Corridor between Sterling and Soldotna with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Tuesday night at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers in Soldotna.
Mary Helminski, who lives off the Sterling Highway on Jim Dahler Road, was grateful for the meeting to discuss the safety issue on the highway. One of her biggest concerns is that the highway is “too dark.”
Between 2000 and 2010, the most numerous type of crashes on the highway between the Moose River bridge and the Kenai Spur Highway, 28 percent, were moose related, with 80 percent of those crashes happening at night.
“Light that highway up,” Helminski said. “If they do nothing else, light it up.”
Moose mitigation options include installing lights, but the maintenance cost for lighting would be expensive, Ron Martindale, traffic analyst for Kinney Engineering, said during DOT&PF’s presentation. Dennis Linnell, principal civil engineer with Hattenburg Dilley and Linnell Engineering, said the state maintenance funding has been flat since 1985.
Another option to decrease the number of moose-related accidents would be to put up fencing along the highway, but there are too many intersections for fencing to be effective, Martindale said.
Ross Morrison, who lives on Jim Dahler Road, said getting off of the highway to residences and businesses can be dangerous on the Sterling, especially when trying to make a left turn.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to dive,” he said.
Alan Holt, another Jim Dahler Road resident, agreed.
“There is so much traffic,” he said. “Getting safely on and off to residences is huge.”
Morrison thinks the best option to decrease the number of accidents is to put in a depressed median between opposing traffic lanes with left-turn lanes at about half-mile intervals.
Walter H. Ward of WoodHeat FireStone located between Beacon Hill Street and S. Jawle Street on the highway is concerned about how a divided highway would affect businesses between Soldotna and Sterling.
He said many businesses on that section of the highway basically survive because of summer tourists, who stop by on their drive.
With a divided highway there aren’t as many left-turn opportunities for travelers. Ward thinks the DOT&PF should consider the many businesses and give drivers the option to make a left turn to those businesses. His suggestion is to construct a highway with a full-center turn lane from Soldotna to about Pine Street and from Swanson River Road to the widened highway in Sterling. He also thinks the speed limit should be reduced 45 mph in those areas. Between the two sections, he suggests a two-lane divided highway with an alternating center passing lane.
After the presentation, Ward spent sometime talking with different project team members to share his ideas.
“I think its great they came down to have the meeting,” he said
The six alternatives the team presented were:
■ four-lane divided with a depressed median;
■ four-lane divided with a two-way left turn lane or urban-style raised concrete median;
■ four-lane divided with a two-way left turn lane, rural-style;
■ two-lane divided with a depressed median;
■ two-lane divided with alternating passing lanes;
■ four-lane divided with a raised concrete barrier.
Linnell said the four-lane alternative with the depressed median is probably the safest design.
“It’s meant to get people from point A to point B with as little interruption as possible,” he said.
He said DOT&PF isn’t restricted to only one alternative, the best option might be a combination.
The department is also considering alternatives for pedestrian pathways along the highway. Currently bikers, runners and walkers commute on the shoulder of the highway. Other options include an urban sidewalk or a multi-use pathway with minimum or optimum separation. The minimum amount of separation between the highway and a multi-use path is 10 feet. The safest option is to separate a path from the highway with a ditch, Linnell said.
Morrison, Holt and Ward all would like to see a path along the highway.
“A bike trail would be just absolutely used,” Morrison said.
The Sterling Highway between Soldotna and Sterling was designated a safety corridor in 2009. Cynthia Ferguson, project manager, said the overall goal of the project is to get the number of accidents down.
“We don’t want it to be a safety corridor anymore,” she said.
Since it became a safety corridor, rumble strips have been put in, traffic fines are double and policing has been increased, Martindale said.
According to DOT&PF, between 2000 and 2012 there were 12 fatal crashes resulting in 16 deaths on the Sterling Highway. Between Boundary Street and Evergreen Street, 10 of the accidents occurred with 13 of the total deaths.
Between the Kenai Spur and Moose River there were 721 crashes on the Sterling Highway between 2000 and 2010. After moose-related crashes, the second highest cause of crashes is rear-end collisions with 27 percent. Other overrepresented crash causes are ran-off-the-road with 12 percent, head-on with 5 percent and sideswipe with 4 percent, according to DOT&PF.
Nearly all fatal crashes were the result of a head-on collision. The Sterling Highway average annual fatal accident rate between 2000 and 2012 was 3.28. The statewide rate was 1.60 and the national rate was 1.37, according to DOT&PF.
If nothing is done, crashes are expected to rise to 22 percent more annual crashes between 2031 and 2040 than between 2000 and 2010, according to DOT&PF.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, DOT&PF set up listening posts for public comment in Soldotna and Sterling in July. DOT&PF is accepting comments online at sterlinghwy.com by clicking on the map image. Graphics of the alternatives are viewable by clicking the link in the “Current Status” box.
Ferguson said the next step in the project is to determine which alternatives to move forward with in consideration and begin figuring cost estimates for the different designs.
The study is funded by a legislative appropriation, she said. A draft of the preliminary decision document is scheduled to be complete in February 2014. Construction is tentatively scheduled for 2018, but is dependant on many factors including funding, according to DOT&PF.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at email@example.com.