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Kenai prefers five-lane improvement to Spur Highway

Posted: January 15, 2014 - 10:32pm
Provided by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
Provided by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

City of Kenai officials reiemphasized their desire to see a 5.7-mile stretch of the Kenai Spur Highway expand to five lanes following an Alaska Department of Transportation report, but time remains for community input before a decision can be made.

With $20 million dollars from a General Obligation Bond in hand, DOT presented six alternatives to improve the stretch of highway from Sport Lake Road to Swires Road with estimated cost and crash reduction figures. Only three of the proposals fit into the available budget. The cost for two through lanes and a two-way left turn lane is $40.5 million.

During the presentation, DOT engineer Carol Roadifer outlined the safety and traffic concerns under the roads present conditions. The six-mile stretch of the Spur Highway between Kenai and Soldotna sees a volume of 11,500 vehicles a day. In 20 years the volume is expected to increase to 16,500 vehicles per day, which would be deemed an unstable level of service.

According to a DOT study presented with data from 2005–2009, 169 crashes were reported with one fatality on the stretch of highway. Moose collisions represented 53 percent of all accidents with 95 percent of those crashes occurring at night when darkness affects visibility.

One alternative is to increase illumination with streetlights in the area, which would cost $9.5 million and reduce moose collisions by 30 percent, according to the study. Street resurfacing and adding left-turn pockets at six intersections would also fit within the budget.

While the city of Kenai is in favor of adding streetlights to reduce moose collisions, City Manager Rick Koch doesn’t believe three- and four-lane roads are viable options considering the traffic growth projected in the next 20 years.

“Generally you would try to design something to meet the needs for a period of time,” Koch said. “The five-lane design provides a safe roadway that can best handle the anticipated traffic. We don’t have $40 million in the checkbook right now, but we have a good start to take care of initial safety issues and build as much as we can.”

The Kenai City Council adopted a resolution at their Dec. 18, 2013 meeting, which requested DOT design and construct a five-lane roadway from milepost 2.8 to 8.1.

“My hope is the community will look at the resolution passed that articulates why the five-lane project is the best alternative,” Koch said. “I encourage citizens to comment to the DOT in support.”

While the Kenai Peninsula Borough is working in coordination with DOT on the highway project, instead of the City of Kenai, Koch is confident the two sides can work together and that the Borough shares the same sentiments as the Kenai government.

Koch said that stretch of the Spur is dangerous between the moose on the road and the types of traffic.

“There are two different kinds of traffic that compete for the same square feet of asphalt. The cars going 40 mph and turning at the next driveway and cars going 60 mph going to Soldotna,” he said. “They don’t play well together and the severity of accidents are significant.”

Local resident Monica English, who lives on Pickle Hill, just off the Spur, said she had concerns with a phased approach to the project, by starting on one end of Kenai and running out of funding and not completing the rest before receiving more money to finish the project.

Koch said the revitalization project should start with the biggest problem area for traffic on the side closest to Soldotna and that the city would do its best to request another bond to pay for the remaining roadway.

English, who was the only member of the public at the presentation, said she appreciated the City of Kenai’s recommendation for a five-lane road, which would address the solution long-term.

The public comment period is 30 days with a decision made by DOT in 45 days. The Kenai Spur Highway road project would begin in the summer of 2017.

Koch said when the LNG gas plant gets built in Nikiski, traffic on the Spur will skyrocket. Add in the summer tourist season and the road under its current condition would be unacceptable.

“We will marshal our forces to get other funding,” he said. “It will probably be easier to get more money from the legislature then.”

Reach Dan Blamer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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