DOT battles erosion along Sterling Highway

Crews are working to stop the Kenai River from threatening the integrity of the Sterling Highway at Mile 57 west of Cooper Landing.

Department of Transportation & Public Affairs spokesperson Jill Reese said Tutka LLC, which has locations in Wasilla and Anchorage, began work to lay riprap — rocks — along the Kenai River bank last week.

The Kenai River along the highway has been changing its course lately, which has been causing roadside erosion, Reese said. The riprap should keep the erosion from worsening.

“(Crews will) always be checking on it to make sure that it’s working and it’s not getting any worse, but it should pretty well cap it,” Reese said.

According to the National Weather Service, the Kenai River at Cooper Landing was observed at 11.9 feet at 3 p.m. on Monday. Flood stage is 13 feet. Reese said while it’s easier to work when water levels are lower, the department decided to begin the project.

“I think (department officials) just felt that it was imperative enough to get this work done that they’re just going ahead and going for it,” she said.

The riprap work is part one of the project, she said, which should wrap up by mid-September. This portion of the project costs about $450,000.

Next fall DOT&PF plans to move the highway as a permanent fix, Reese said. However, because the permitting process to move the road is lengthy, DOT&PF determined shoring up the river was necessary this year. DOT&PF is in the STIP — Statewide Transportation Improvement Program — phase for this part of the project.

“(DOT&PF officials) do anticipate moving the highway just a little bit north away from the river,” she said. “And they’re also probably going to be doing some bank work to reshape the river there just a little bit so we have less of an impact, less of a curve, so the river flows better.”

The estimated cost for the project is about $8 million. Reese said DOT&PF expects to have funding for the project in the next fiscal year and begin construction in the fall. The high dollar figure is because extra work will have to be done to minimize impacts to the river, she said.

Reese said the department began looking at the erosion at Mile 57 and planning work last June.

Kaylee Osowski can be reached at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com

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