Soldotna residents and government officials came together Wednesday to get their first look at the new Kenai River bridge, expected to be completed by late 2005.
The bridge will replace the existing David Douthit Veterans Memorial Bridge on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna.
Most seemed pleased with what they saw.
"I like it. I think it's just great," said Soldotna City Council member Jane Stein. "It has beautiful, clean lines, and I can drive across it and still see what's going on down in the river."
Stein made her comments after viewing drawings of the proposed bridge at an open house held by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facil-ities at the Soldotna Sports Center. The department held the community event in order to show off the proposed bridge design and answer any questions from area residents.
Color renderings showing what the finished bridge will look like drew the most attention. The drawings showed a large, curved structure rising above a single deck. The curved steel supports will be attached to the deck by steel cables, which will allow the bridge to cross the river without having to place pilings in the Kenai River.
According to bridge designer Elmer Marx, the 400-foot long, 75-feet high "tied arch" suspension bridge was the most logical choice for the project because it enables the state to build a cost effective structure without having to place permanent structures in the river.
"For this span length it satisfies all the design criteria and is the most economically viable," Marx said.
The bridge will be wide enough to accommodate five lanes of traffic, as well as 12-foot wide pedestrian pathways on both sides. The five lane configuration will allow the state to extend the existing five-lane Sterling Highway south to where it intersects with Kaliforn-sky Beach Road. Improvements will then be made to make those two roads tie smoothly together.
According to bridge project manager Judy Dougherty, the state has secured funding for the bridge, which will cost around $28 million to build. Additional landscaping and other work on the project will push the total price tag to roughly $34 million. She said she anticipates the project taking between 18 and 24 months to complete, with bids going out next February and construction likely to begin in spring 2004.
Dougherty said the department held the open house to address concerns local residents might have about the project's impact on the environment, the surrounding neighborhood and traffic.
The most pressing concern people have spoken out about has to deal with traffic. Many people have expressed concern that construction of a new bridge will impact what already is an extremely congested part of town during the summer. Dougherty explained that area residents will likely not be overly inconvenienced by delays, as the plan now calls for the construction of a two-lane temporary crossing below the existing bridge.
"We're anticipating that for the bulk of the construction, two-way traffic will be able to pass," she said.
Dougherty said larger trucks may not be able to use the bridge, and some delays could be expected during peak construction, but the temporary bridge should meet most traffic needs.
"We may have a couple weeks during the transition where we have to close for a day or two, but it shouldn't be much," she said.
Besides the temporary traffic bridge, DOT also will build a small construction bridge from which a crane and other equipment will operate.
Additionally, Dougherty said DOT has finalized plans to use property on the north side of Riverside Drive as a sedimentation pond to filter highway runoff before returning it to the river. The state already has purchased the property, she said, and hopes area residents will find the planned pond acceptable. She brought pictures of other such ponds in Soldotna to show what the site will look like, and said the pond offers the only viable way to filter runoff.
"We're committed to the water quality," she said. "You really can't take the water anywhere else economically."
Dougherty said she believes DOT has done everything it can to ensure the project goes as smoothly as possible.
"I think we've addressed the bulk of the concerns," she said.
Soldotna business owner Nick Williams said he was worried the project would impede traffic to his chiropractic clinic on Kalifornsky Beach Road. He said after the meeting that he's still not totally convinced the project won't cause big delays, though he said he was pleased with the presentation.
"Let's face it, that's a major intersection," he said. "It should have been done a long time ago."
Williams said he was impressed with what the completed bridge will look like.
"I'm surprised it's as high as it is," he said. "But it's a good looking bridge."
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