Staying ahead of breakup

Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2002

It may not be time to round up the animals two by two, but area streets have been experiencing some flooding in the past four days as the sun pushed daytime temperatures above freezing.

Although the flooding may fall short of Biblical proportions, some intersections and sections of road have become submerged in water, causing hazardous driving conditions and headaches for area road crews.

"We have had what I call puddle patrol out for the last couple of days," said Steve Bonebrake, director of public works for the city of Soldotna. "As a city we have the puddles under control, we haven't had any major flooding that we haven't taken care of in a single day."

Soldotna road crews have managed to stay ahead of flooding problems on their roads and have lent their support to state Department of Transportation crews for real problem areas.

"DOT has had some challenges and we're out there helping them right now on the Spur Highway and the Sterling Highway," Bonebrake said.

One stretch of road between Birch Street and the Soldotna Inn on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna experienced some particularly severe flooding Tuesday and Wednesday. But DOT and Soldotna road crews clearly marked the area for motorists and expected to have the problem mitigated by Wednesday evening, Bonebrake said.

Soldotna crews have employed a new method of draining water this year that has helped them be more efficient, Bonebrake said. In addition to opening frozen drains, crews have been cutting narrow trenches in the ice covering the roads with a hot water pressure washer which allows the water to drain faster.

The Kenai Public Works Department reported no major flooding on city streets and anticipates no particular problems dealing with the puddles that have formed.

"It's not real bad right now," said Jack LaShot, public works manager for the city of Kenai. "It could be a lot worse, though. The last storm kind of worked its way around Kenai.

"If it doesn't snow too much more we should be in pretty good shape within the next few weeks."

Kenai has been using a new steam truck this year to unclog frozen drains around town, which has been effective, LaShot said.

Kenai Peninsula Borough roads have been gathering water as well, about as fast as crews can get out to drain them.

"We wait for problems to pop up then we go out and do what we can to relieve the problem," said Gary Davis, borough road service area director. "We have had some 14-inch deep puddles in the road, and if we can't take care of it then people have to do some walking. But people all over the borough are kind of tuned in to the breakup and the problems it creates."


Several hundred feet down the road, a motorist drives through the puddle the frozen drain was creating.

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Last year a bout of freezing rain early in the winter froze drainage ditches, so when the snow began to melt in the spring the water had nowhere to go, Davis said. But the thaw this year shouldn't be as bad.

"It's a very nice breakup so far," Bonebrake said. "We're freezing up every night and its giving us some water every day, that makes for a nice breakup."

Bonebrake cautioned that even though temperatures are getting warm during the day, pipes can still freeze at night, so people should still take appropriate precautions.

Area police departments have a warning to deliver as well: slow down. Flooding on the roadway can cause traffic accidents if motorists aren't careful.

"Hitting water at a high rate of speed can cause tire treads to lose contact with the ground and can cause a vehicle to hydroplane," said Lt. Chuck Kopp of the Kenai Police Department. "As you get out of a puddle, gently apply the brakes three or four times to dry the brakes."

Kenai and Soldotna police didn't have any flooding-related accidents to report Wednesday, but they still advised caution.

"Actually, people have been handling it pretty well," said Soldotna Police Detective Sgt. Tod McGillivray. "But people should be slowing down. Even if (a puddle) doesn't look very deep, it's possible that it's deeper than what's expected. We have had a couple of motorists that made that comment."

Kopp said that submerged portions of the road can prompt drivers to risk some quick lane changes to avoid driving though puddles, so he cautioned motorists in dry lanes to anticipate the actions of other drivers.

The forecast for the week calls for temperatures to remain in the upper 30s and lower 40s in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

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