Keystone residents push for upgrade

Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Public facilities including boat launches and a parking area on Keystone Drive are attracting far more traffic than the narrow, unpaved section of borough road can bear, according to residents who want the borough to name the road a high priority on its federal and state road priorities lists.

Maintenance of Keystone Drive, which runs along the north side of the Kenai River, is divided. Part is handled by the state, part by the city of Soldotna, and the unpaved portion beyond Boundary Street by the borough.

Keystone resident Jane Madison told the assembly on Jan. 6 that although there were only 50 full-time residents living on the unpaved section of the road in February of last year, a borough road department traffic count showed some 256 vehicles a day used the road.

"During July, with approximately 100 full-time property owners present, the count varied from 1,320 to 1,580 vehicles a day, with an average daily count of 1,362," Madison said. "And this was not taken at the peak of the salmon run."

Madison acknowledged borough efforts to maintain the road, but said that only a day or so after grading, even in good weather, the road returns to poor condition.

"The road simply cannot safely handle the amount of traffic that the federal facilities have created," she said.

The 3-mile-long Keystone project has been on the borough's federal transportation priority list for several years, including last year, when a project description noted that "local residents, tourism businesses, public facilities and general businesses have all greatly impacted the deterioration of the roadway."

Among the attractions served are "access to the Kenai River, several beds and breakfast operations, fishing guide services, two U.S. Fish & Wildlife public boat launches and parks."

The road has what the priorities list describes as "a relatively good base."

According to the final draft of the borough's updated Compre-hensive Transportation Plan, traffic on gravel roads is considered excessive beyond 300 vehicles per day. One section of the plan cites Keystone Drive as "a prime example" of the maintenance problems sometimes caused by the existence of federal and state facilities.

"We already have 1,300 vehicles a day," Madison said. "We believe that traffic will increase each year as visitors and area residents become more familiar with the public fishing and camping facilities, and free boat ramps. In other words, this is a problem that can't wait for 10 or 15 years. The problem needs to be fixed as soon as possible."

Madison, who said she was speaking for "a grassroots effort" to upgrade and pave Keystone Drive, asked the assembly for its support by keeping the road on the priorities list.

She said $1 million in federal money already has been earmarked for the project. That money, she said, requires a match.

"We are currently looking at a variety of options for that $90,300," she said. "Another $1.5 million is earmarked for Keystone Drive in the 2004 Senate Appropriations (bill), and that will not require a match if passed in January as currently written," she said.

According to Madison, the Alaska Department of Transporta-tion and Public Facilities has estimated the full cost of the upgrade and paving project at $6 million. She also said that the project has the backing of property owners, a local bed and breakfast association, Agrium and the Salamatof Native Association, which own property along the road, as well as Gov. Frank Murkowski's office and numerous visitors.

"We have hundreds of petition signatures proving this support, and just five individuals who have indicated opposition," Madison said.

Madison said the road must remain on the priorities list to have a chance at garnering the remaining $3.5 million needed for the project.

"With your support, our federal representatives will consider us for the remaining funding in the 2005 budget. If we are not on the new list, our federal offices will assume that you plan to fund the project through some other means," Madison told the assembly.

Assembly President Pete Sprague said he saw no reason not to include Keystone on the borough's road priority list. He said the road sees "pretty substantial" traffic, especially in the summer.

"The Road Service Area Board has identified it as one of their top five priorities," he said.

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