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Construction season approaching on most Alaska highways

Posted: April 24, 2014 - 8:27pm  |  Updated: April 24, 2014 - 8:28pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion   The Sterling Highway narrows down to one lane on a bridge near Cooper Landing Saturday 19, 2014 in Cooper Landing, Alaska.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion The Sterling Highway narrows down to one lane on a bridge near Cooper Landing Saturday 19, 2014 in Cooper Landing, Alaska.

ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s second season, that of road construction, is upon us.

The Parks Highway will get a major facelift starting this year, with a dozen projects along the entirety of the Anchorage-Fairbanks link.

Work already contracted for the northern half of the highway will total about $80 million in 2014 alone, Department of Transportation Northern Region spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said. Not coincidentally, the overall region road construction budget is about $240 million in finalized contracts for 60 projects in 20 communities, or about $80 million more than 2013, according to Bailey.

“Almost all of the (Parks Highway) projects are safety improvements or upgrades to capacity — a lot of passing lanes,” she said.

Heading south on the Parks, the first large project travelers will encounter is the construction of three passing lanes this year from milepost 272 to milepost 265 between Nenana and Healy. A larger second stage of that work will build seven more passing lanes between miles 296 and 197 and is anticipated to run through September 2015.

Drivers can expect delays of up to 50 minutes and pilot cars in these work zones, according to DOT.

Installation of $13 million worth of rumble strips and permanent road striping between milepost 263 and milepost 252 — completion of holdover work from last year — will take up to four weeks and should be done by the end of August.

The gamut of resurfacing, bridgework, adding and replacing culverts, and road widening will start as soon as weather permits between mileposts 252 and 239. Delays of up to 20 minutes and weight restrictions during bridgework can be expected in this stretch of work, which will also continue into 2015 and cost $32 million.

In all, more than 100 culverts will be replaced, repaired or cleaned in the 13-mile stretch.

At mile 194 south of Cantwell, three years of work on a railroad overpass and a new bridge across the Middle Fork of the Chulitna River will commence this spring. Again, traffic delays of 20 minutes can be expected.

Bailey said an exact price to the bridgework was unavailable as a contract had not been awarded, but the project was appropriated $20 million in the current state capital budget.

Back north in Fairbanks crews will be resurfacing two of the popular routes through the city. About three-quarters of Airport Way will be resurfaced at a cost of $5.4 million, Bailey said, with the remainder of the road being finished in 2015.

The 4.5-mile Johansen Expressway will get its first new pavement since it was built 20 years ago. That project will cost DOT $9.2 million. A resurfacing and sidewalk rebuild on of the oldest streets in Fairbanks, South Cushman Street, is out to bid, according to Bailey.

“(South Cushman) is a complex street because there’s not a lot of right-of-way to work in,” with businesses near the edge of the narrow corridor, she said.

To the north of Fairbanks a $17 million, two-year reconstruction of Goldstream Road will commence this year. Elsewhere in the Northern Region, $7 million will be spent to resurface the first 19 miles of the Edgerton Highway towards Chitina. It is currently chip sealed and will get a layer of asphalt, Bailey said. A continuation of resurfacing and bridgework on the Glenn Highway in Glennallen will continue as well.

By the end of the summer, Alaska should have 15 miles of new road. The pioneer-level Tanana Road will extend the end of the Elliott Highway to the south bank of the Yukon River across from Tanana and provide ice road access to the community.

“It’s not often we get to build new roads in Alaska,” Bailey said.

The Tanana Road is out to bid as well. With $6 million in the proposed fiscal 2015 capital budget, the Roads to Resources project will likely have been appropriated $16 million since fiscal 2013.

Downtown Anchorage’s main corridor should be a lot smoother by the time the cold returns next fall.

“The entire Fifth and Sixth avenues from L Street to Ingra (Street) is going to be getting a pavement uplift,” DOT Central Region spokeswoman Jill Reese said.

Additionally, the Sixth Avenue and A Street intersection will be closed for a time, Reese said, however it is unclear as to when because contracts for the downtown work have not been finalized. Nighttime paving is set to begin in July and continue into October, with requisite concrete work done during the day, she said. It’s also unclear which end of the Fifth-Sixth corridor will be paved first.

West Dowling Road new construction between C Street and Minnesota will resume and continue seasonally into 2016. This summer, the West Dowling-Raspberry Road intersection will be closed for six weeks, Reese said — exactly when is unknown.

Long-term work on the Seward Highway in Anchorage is ongoing as DOT is working to secure right-of-ways in the Dowling Road area of South Anchorage, according to Reese. A revamp of the signal lights on the Tudor Road-Seward Highway overpass will impact traffic for a short time, she said.

In all, DOT has 51 projects totaling $482 million planned for the region in 2014.

Repaving and shoulder widening on Eagle River Road up to mile five will resume soon and go through August. Work on the first five-mile stretch of Eagle River Road will be a 2015 project.

“All of these we get started as soon as we can and go as long as we can,” Reese said.

A continuation of work from last year, sections of the Seward Highway from Ingram Creek at the base of Turnagain Pass to Canyon Creek — 19.5 miles of highway — will be resurfaced.

DOT is also studying options to make the section of the Seward Highway near Indian along Turnagain Arm safer, according to Reese.

Resurfacing started last year through Cooper Landing on the Sterling Highway from mile 45 to mile 58 will continue as well, she said.

Miles 79 to 82.5 of the Sterling near the Moose River will be getting new pavement, too.

At the end of the Sterling, the Homer Spit road will be repaved this summer, Reese said.

Back on the Parks, a five-year, three-phase expansion project from Lucas Road in Wasilla to Big Lake Road is getting underway this spring.

The 2014 phase of the project will extend the five-lane format one mile from Lucas Road to Church Road at a cost of $17 million, according to DOT.

Reese said concerns about extended delays should be answered with travel restrictions being limited to an off-peak 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. timeframe with maximum delays of about 20 minutes. Construction crews and DOT are “doing all they can to make this as easy on people as possible,” she said.

Resurfacing is tentatively scheduled for July through September on Parks Highway miles 123-146. Delays of up to an hour when traveling the entire 23-mile stretch should be expected, according to DOT. The work should also reduce future weight restrictions on the section of highway during spring thaw, the department reports.

While dominated by water and the Alaska Marine Highway, a few sections of paved road are getting attention in Southeast this summer, but not as many as 2013.

“Last year was a much heavier year for construction in Southeast,” region spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said.

The biggest project will be wrapping up the $34 million Brotherhood Bridge replacement on Juneau’s Glacier Highway, Woodrow said.

Also on the Glacier Highway, a roundabout at the intersection of the highway with Back Loop Road should be completed this year, he said. That work has an $8.1 million price tag.

The end of work to light Egan Drive is also in DOT’s sights.

“That’s a nice safety improvement,” Woodrow said.

On the other side of Gastineau Channel from Juneau, the first six miles of the North Douglas Highway will be resurfaced at a cost of $5.7 million. In Ketchikan, holdover work to rehab and resurface the North Tongass Highway from Ward Cove to Refuge Cove will be ongoing. Gustavus will be the exception to the quiet construction summer in Southeast, according to Woodrow.

“We’re repaving almost all of Gustavus,” he said.

More than $35 million of work reconstructing Sawmill Creek and Halibut Point roads in Sitka should wrap up this year as well.

Woodrow said 20-plus miles of work on the Haines Highway just out of town that DOT had originally hoped to start this season has been delayed because of challenges in permitting.

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