Once the snow and ice melt this spring, the path will be clear for construction to begin on the Unity Trail. But obstacles remain that could slow the path's progress.
Construction is scheduled to begin in May on the pedestrian and bicycle trail connecting Kenai and Soldotna along the Kenai River side of the Kenai Spur Highway. Gary Walklin, of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said the project is expected to be completed by year's end.
The trail, when completed, will run from Mile 2.8 of the highway in Soldotna to Mile 8.1 in Kenai. The total proposed Unity Trail project will stretch from the Kenai Spur Highway starting point in Soldotna, to Bridge Access Road, across the Kenai River, and up Kalifornsky Beach Road to the Sterling Highway.
The K-Beach Road section is already completed, and the Bridge Access Road part is a separate project that awaits resolution of environmental concerns.
DOT has budgeted $675,000 in federal grant money and state funds to complete the Kenai Spur Highway portion of the trail, with the state carrying the minimum share of the expenses in the form of a 9-percent match of federal dollars.
DOT Area Planner Rex Young said a total of $2.8 million has been spent on planning and designing this trail and another bicycle and pedestrian path that will run between Marydale and Redoubt avenues in Soldotna.
"The projects were funded under a combined grant," Young said.
But, Walklin said, there are environmental concerns the project faces.
"We're going to have a lot of environmental measures at Beaver Creek or wherever we're crossing drainage to minimize run-off," he said.
The trail will have to go over Beaver Creek, potentially disturbing the natural habitat the stream supports. According to Kenai Peninsula Borough code, excavation needed to lay the path down over Beaver Creek, is prohibited within the 50-foot Beaver Creek habitat protection area. The borough planning commission, however, has granted a conditional-use permit for the project under specific terms.
Construction must not harm plant life in the area and must replant any vegetation killed during the project. The developers must protect against soil erosion and must ensure that the culvert system installed will not hinder free passage of spawning fish nor affect or change the flow of the stream fish are traveling in.
Walklin said DOT has prepared to avoid harming the creek's habitat.
"We have developed stream protection measures (for) where we will be directing Beaver Creek through the overpipe plate," Walklin said. "We will utilize silt fans and basins to direct and catch sediment. And we will lay down matting on the banks to minimize slope erosion and nearby to minimize vegetation damage."
Because of the extra work needed near Beaver Creek, he said, work could begin even sooner.
"The contractor said they may want to start earlier and replace the existing culvert," Walklin said. "As soon as the ground is thawed, they will start multi-pipe preconstruction. The culvert at Beaver Creek is our biggest single design effort."
DOT and contractors from Alaska Road Builders will lay the culvert down in the creek and fit metal plating over the top. Then, the plating will be paved over by the trail's hard-top surface.
Another obstacle may block full completion of the trail, however. DOT attained the right of way for much of the 5.3-mile stretch of land along the highway, after giving public notice last year of the project's scope to property owners living within a 300-foot radius of the proposed site.
But Walklin said a wrinkle in plans left the development without all of the right of way identified for the project.
"There is a section that we're not building at this time because we didn't (get) the right of way," he said. "My understanding was that we didn't reach an agreement with the owner in time for advertising."
Walkin did not identify the owner, but he said there will be a stretch of unfinished trailway measuring about 2,000 feet between Strawberry Road and Eagle Rock Drive until the right of way is acquired.
And what of unforeseen roadblocks, like uncooperative weather?
"The completion date (for the contractors) is 180 calendar days from May 1," Walklin said. "That gives us time."
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