A bicycle and walking path, which would complete a Kenai-Soldotna loop by the time it is built, drew overwhelming approval at a Wednesday night meeting in Kenai.
Presented by Mark Blanning, a project engineer for Wince-Corthell-Bryson Consulting Engineers of Kenai, the plan showed two possible routes for the path between the Kenai Spur Highway, along Bridge Access Road, to Kalifornsky Beach Road. By the end of the meeting, more options had been explored.
The path is being funded by state transportation funds.
By the time the Bridge Access Road trail is built -- projected for 2004 -- the Unity Trail along the Kenai Spur Highway from Soldotna to Kenai should be done. Once all the pieces are in place, a 22-mile loop of uninterrupted trail will be complete. The Unity Trail could be built this year, Blanning said.
The two basic plans for the trail differ only by which side of Bridge Access Road they are on. Most comments expressed a preference for the west side, so it could easily tie in to the two scenic viewing platforms along the road.
"We have not decided which side it will be on," Blanning said. "We hope input from the public will help us decide."
One of the benefits of running the trail on the east side is easier access to tie it into the existing K-Beach Road path completed last fall.
One suggestion came from the audience to run the trail along the west side to the viewing platform on the south side of the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge, then cross under the bridge and proceed up the east side.
An Alaska Parks Division plan to develop a trail from the viewing area there to Birch Island, a stand of trees with cultural and historical significance on the east side, includes a path under the bridge, which could be used as part of the bike path.
If the path is on the west side as it leaves downtown Kenai, it could easily be tied in with the Kenai Coastal Trail, proposed to be built atop a sea wall that would run for more than a mile along the base of the Kenai bluff.
Parking areas for the coastal trail also could be used for the Bridge Access Road trail, said Kenai Mayor John Williams.
Williams said he favored the west side option, but suggested a detour to move pedestrian and bike traffic away from the intersection of Beaver Loop Road. It would veer west and skirt the parking lots of the boat yard and return to Bridge Access Road near Boat Launch Road.
Questions were raised by Vicki Davis, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Soldotna, about how the trail would cross the salmon-bearing streams on the route.
Blanning said the trail would move in to hug the road, and try to cross over the same culverts that serve Bridge Access Road.
Davis also expressed concern over a separated bike path causing greater hardship for migrating mammals, which would have twice as many humps to scale. She said it could cause animals such as caribou to avoid the area. She expressed the same concern over greater human traffic causing migratory waterfowl, which utilize the Kenai River Flats by the thousands each spring, to stay away.
Crossing the Kenai River would eat up most of the $3.8 million budget and, depending on the options, could break the bank.
The options would be to build onto the side of the bridge or cantilever a path off the bridge substructure, if the bridge is capable of it. If not, a bridge with its own pilings in the water could be considered.
"A stand-alone bridge would be pretty spendy," Blanning said.
"Enough so to kill the project," Williams added.
The bike path is in the very early planning stage and permitting is hoped to be done by February 2002. The final design should be done by December 2002, with construction tentatively scheduled for summer 2004.
The next public meeting will be held in the fall, Blanning said. Until then, he said, the comments taken Wednesday would be compiled and incorporated into the plan. By then, he said he hopes to have eliminated one of the options and have a better idea of what shape the path will take.
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