Peninsula residents petition for new bike path

Hundreds of peninsula residents are pushing for the construction of a bike path along one of the central Kenai Peninsula’s major roads.

 

Currently, more than 200 people have signed an online petition calling for a path that would connect the Kenai Spur Highway to Kalifornsky Beach Road via Bridge Access Road. The path would complete a loop connecting central peninsula communities.

For years, plans to build a path along the road have been discussed, but to date, nothing has come to fruition due to a combination of lack of funding and environmental concerns.

While past efforts have failed, Kenai resident Carma Shay started the newest effort by creating a petition on www.change.org to gain support for the construction of a path along the road.

Shay said the idea was a result of seeing how the current construction being done alongside the road has affected bicyclists. While she was driving on Bridge Access one day, Shay witnessed a person biking on the narrow shoulder of the road, which was made even more dangerous by the placement of construction signs.

“I was really scared for the biker,” she said. “I was scared just passing the biker.”

The incident made Shay consider her own family’s safety, and steps that could be taken to increase road accessibility. Aside from increasing safety, Shay said that a path could mitigate any negative impact caused by the current work being done on the road.

Shay said she didn’t have a specific idea how a path would coincide with the bridge. However, she said that she trusts engineers are capable of figuring out the logistics.

“(Enstar) drilled under the river,” she said. “It’s amazing what can be done.”

Shay’s petition has been well received by many members of the community.

One of the petition’s signatories is Mike Crawford. An avid outdoorsman, Crawford said that having a bike path along Bridge Access would be beneficial to the community.

“To put that connection-piece to make a safe and continuous full circle loop would just be a wonderful thing for the community and make it safer,” Crawford said.

He said that there is currently some space on the road for cyclists, but certain times of the year make cycling problematic.

“There is a fair bit of shoulder, but in July, the road is packed,” he said. “It can be terrifying.”

In an email, Department of Transportation spokesperson Jill Reese said a path is feasible from an engineering standpoint. However, she wrote that finding federal funds for the project would prove more difficult.

For entities interested in acquiring funds for the project, Reese recommended the “pursuit of non-federal highway funding,” which could come from a non-profit, city or borough.

Focusing on acquiring federal funding would be less likely to be successful, according to the email.

Currently, there is no active design plan, so the Department of Transportation hasn’t determined if a path would be separate from the existing road, or connected to it. Also unknown is if a path would require widening the bridge, or whether an additional bridge would need to be built, according to Reese.

Despite many unknowns, the cost for such a project is estimated to be $10-15 million, Reese said in the email. Other factors involved in the planning and process would likely result in an increase of total cost.

“This ballpark estimate does not include any other items that may be required by regulatory agencies — such as constructing a fence or wall to visually screen and protect birds from path users and their pets or elevating the path on a boardwalk to reduce wetland impacts while also protecting wildlife from being disturbed by path users,” Reese wrote.

For more than a decade, one roadblock for a bike path has been the unknown consequences the project would have on the natural habitat in the area, specifically regarding bird migration.

“In the spring of 2002, a Bird Behavior Study was conducted to evaluate this issue,” Reese wrote. “But resource agency representatives mainly from (Alaska Department of Fish and Game and United States Fish and Wildlife Service) did not believe that this study was sufficient to support meaningful conclusions.”

While the future status of the project is unclear at this point, Reese said that petitions, such as the one started by Shay, can be beneficial when trying to accomplish a goal.

“Petitions in support of a project may be helpful when pursuing non-federal funds, particularly when accompanied by letters of support from resource agencies,” Reese wrote.

If a path does eventually come to fruition, some residents believe it would serve the community well.

“It would be one of the most beautiful places in the state to bike,” said Crawford. “Maybe even in the United States.”

Reach Ian Foley at ian.foley@peninsulaclarion.com.

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