Borough’s transportation priorities seek federal money

Wish list hits the roads

Posted: Monday, February 05, 2007

Getting to the remote villages of Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo near the head of Kachemak Bay means negotiating a steep and winding old gravel road, hazardous even in the summer months.

Across the Kenai Peninsula, residents of the Lowell Point area near Seward travel gravel hugging the side of a mountain, the same inadequate road connecting Seward to its waste treatment facility.

In Nikiski, Island Lake Road gets regular state maintenance, but the narrow 35-mph thoroughfare sees more traffic than it can bear, and suffers with surface cracks and potholes, frost heaves and crumbling shoulders. Its sharp corners and off-camber road sections make speeding dangerous, yet speeding is common, which is especially problematic because it is a popular road for children in summer. It needs a pedestrian path and a general roadway upgrade.

Those three roads issues could be addressed, borough officials say, if only there were enough money — all told, $26 million and change. But they are far from being the borough’s only transportation priorities. In fact, there’s a small book’s worth, and together they’d cost scores of millions of dollars to accomplish.

For that kind of cash, the borough is about to go fishing once again in federal pockets.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to approve the final draft of its 2007 Federal Transportation Priorities packet Tuesday, under the same agenda item that will establish the borough’s Federal Legislative and Funding Priorities for 2007 (fiscal year 2008).

It details other projects for which the borough hopes to see federal dollars.

Take the long-desired extension of the Kenai Spur Highway. An earlier Federal Highway Administration appropriation of $6.61 million is expected to allow completion of the environmental phase costing about $3 million, leaving the balance to be applied to new road construction. The borough is now asking for $25 million more with which to eventually extend a borough-standard road out to Point Possession at the northern tip of the peninsula.

The borough is asking for about $8 million for paving and right of way improvements to several roads that link to the Sterling, Seward and Spur highways.

Some $15 million is needed to rebuild, realign and pave about 8.5 miles of the North Fork Road and to build a separated pathway.

Another $23 million would pay for safety improvements to a dozen miles of the Sterling Highway between Anchor Point and Bay Crest Hill Road near Homer.

Even more, $37.5 million, would help relieve problems along 7.5 miles of the Seward Highway along Kenai Lake outside Seward. The stretch is prone to avalanches.

A total of $5 million is needed for an assortment of bridge repair projects from Anchor Point to Nikiski to Seward.

Other transportation projects include a proposed Nikiski Ferry System Terminal and Public Dock ($4 million), which would provide a deepwater dock facility to serve anticipated future projects on both sides of Cook Inlet, such as at the Beluga Coal Field, and development of borough land north of Captain Cook State Park. It is part of a long-range project to link the Tri-Boroughs (Matanuska-Susitna, Kenai Peninsula and the Municipality of Anchorage) with a ferry system.

Future economic development also could depend on $3.8 million for port improvements at Williamsport in Iliamna Bay.

The borough document also includes lists of transportation projects from borough cities.

Assembly President Ron Long, of Seward, said the yearly exercise of compiling the federal transportation wish list is sometimes a study in constraint. Several years ago, the state’s congressional delegation suggested the annual roads list was becoming too large. A concerted effort was made to pare it down, concentrating on priorities, not just listing everything desired.

“It’s not exactly shooting for the moon,” Long said. “We let them know we appreciate what we’ve gotten, but say these are still our priorities and ... this is what we hope get.”

The bottom line — if fully funded — wouldn’t be cheap. Budget constraints and other realities, however, make it highly unlikely the borough would receive everything asked for in any one year, Long said. Thus, projects that have made the list before and remain unfunded usually appear on subsequent lists. Removing them could send the wrong message. Thus, there is always some pressure to grow the list as new projects are proposed, he said.

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