We’re taking odds right now on which public works project will see the first shovel-full of dirt moved: a natural gas pipeline coming off the North Slope, or the Sterling Highway Cooper Landing bypass.
Don’t get us wrong — we’re glad to see the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is working on the stretch of highway through Cooper Landing. The project focuses on miles 45 to 60, roughly Quartz Creek Road to the east end of Skilak Lake Loop Road. The Sterling Highway through that stretch has seen little improvement since it was originally constructed, with narrow, winding lanes and no shoulders. It certainly was not designed for the type and volume of traffic it receives now. How many of us fly to and from Anchorage to avoid that section of the drive, or refuse to drive it during certain times or seasons?
State officials have been kicking around the Cooper Landing bypass for decades, and a number of options have been presented. Each option, of course, has its challenges. The price tag is north of $200 million, and the highway passes through Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge along the way. As project manager Kelly Peterson said, as soon as you “step off the pavement, you are in somebody’s resource.”
In a best-case scenario, DOT would complete its draft environmental impact statement next year for review and a public comment period in 2014. Provided everything stays on track, construction could begin in 2018.
Six years seems a long time to wait for a project that’s been in the works for so long already. Considering the amount of traffic the road gets, it should be a much higher priority for state transportation officials. As the Kenai Peninsula continues to grow, that road is only going to get busier — and less adequate to handle the volume of traffic traveling along it. But if six years is what it will take, then let’s make sure the project gets the necessary resources to keep it on track.
No more delays — it’s time to move some dirt.
While we’re on the topic of building things, today is being promoted as National Tradesmen Day by IRWIN Tools. The idea is to show appreciation for all the skilled professionals who literally build our community — carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, masons, welders — the list goes on, and to encourage more young adults to pursue a trade as a career choice.
There are a number of highly visible building projects under way in our community right now, such as the library and hospital expansions in Soldotna, as well as myriad commercial and residential construction and remodel projects. One suggestion, which a Clarion reader has said she is planning to follow, is to stop by a job site with a box of doughnuts or other token of appreciation. Another is to help or encourage a young person to explore a career in the trades.
Frequently, we don’t think about skilled tradesmen until it’s an emergency, but we’re grateful for the men and women who build and maintain our communities.