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Road standard changes to have public review

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Proposed revisions to the borough’s road standards now before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly could result in safer roads that cost the borough far less to maintain, according to the Road Service Area Board.

Those revisions are the subject of a pair of ordinances up for public hearings on April 17 and May 1.

Ordinance 2007-10, introduced in March by Borough Mayor John Williams, seeks to upgrade current standards to improve the quality of roads accepted into the road maintenance program. Ordinance 2007-11, proposed by Williams and assembly member Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, would amend the borough’s code and require that a new subdivision’s internal roads meet borough gravel standards before approval of the final subdivision plat.

Anchor Point land developer Buzz Kyllonen, a former member of the Road Service Area Board as well as the assembly, argues that the new standards would shift significant costs unfairly onto potential developers, leading some -- especially those looking to subdivide small parcels -- to forego building new subdivisions.

In a memo to the assembly regarding 2007-10, Roads Director Gary Davis said it was in the best interest of the Road Service Area to only certify roads that were well constructed.

Road Service Area standards were last amended in 2002. Since then, Davis said, it has become clear that several areas within the standards, including procedures for certifying roads for maintenance, need modification.

“The recommended changes ... are attempts to improve the quality of roads built in the borough, enhance RSA efficiency, provide continuity of enforcement, reduce maintenance costs, and ensure a better road system for public use,” Davis said.

While some of the changes proposed in 2007-10 are mere housekeeping, others are more substantive, Davis said, such as requiring applicants for road certification to post a bond for surety as a condition precedent to certification. Among other changes being considered are:

n Ensuring that road builders to comply with applicable state and federal laws, not just borough standards;

n Requiring developers to build platted roads providing access to roads adjacent to subdivisions;

n Categorizing roads by the number of lots served and, among other things, requiring roads built to serve phased-in subdivision projects be built to handle the traffic load expected in a fully completed development;

n Requiring drainage engineering on roads built in wetlands and peat bogs;

n Allowing for roll test on roads not expected to see peak traffic for some time. A roll test consists of driving a heavily laden truck over the road to see how it reacts;

n Adding sections covering approval of alternate road design methods, review of designs, and requiring engineering for roads expected to carry the greatest traffic volumes;

n Other sections cover financial guarantees, materials, alignment rules, drainage and culvert grades, engineering on bridges, culverts and retaining walls that meet state standards, and upgraded paving requirements.

While the attempt to upgrade road standards and require standard road building within subdivisions is, on whole, laudable, many aspects of the revisions will pose a hardship and a restriction on business, warns Kyllonen, owner of Kyllonen Enterprises, which builds subdivisions. Kyllonen served on the Road Service Area board for six years, leaving last fall.

“The intent of the ordinance goes back to the poor roads the borough has,” he said. “They’re trying to correct that. But in doing so, they’re going to shift the burden onto people who plan to subdivide in the future or have investment in large-tract properties.”

When it comes to Ordinance 2007-11 and plat approval, one provision requiring developers to connect their subdivisions to nearby state- and borough-maintained roads is a problem for Kyllonen. That provision says developers building subdivisions of at least five lots must build roadbed outside their subdivisions to connect to existing state or borough roads that are within one-eighth of a mile. Further, the ordinance says, “All access points within 660 feet of a municipal- or state-maintained road must be constructed.”

“The cost of doing that may make subdivisions prohibitive,” Kyllonen said. “It’s not the responsibility of the subdivider. Why should you have to build the road to the subdivision?”

Kyllonen has no problem with, and in fact fully backs, requiring that internal subdivision roads be built to borough standards. But 95 percent of borough roads don’t meet such standards and new subdivisions are likely to be planned near those roads. Kyllonen doesn’t believe it should be entirely up to the subdivider to bring a road outside the development up to standards. That, he said, should be a function of the Road Service Area road tax and be shared by everyone in the borough.

Building up to an eighth of a mile of road can be expensive, especially in the less-than-ideal topography of the lower Kenai Peninsula where costs could range from $30 to $80 a foot.

“Here’s what we (developers) don’t want. We don’t want to pick up the tab ourselves,” he said. The borough shouldn’t “create something that will make it difficult or impossible to subdivide and realize the potential of a person’s property.”

Kyllonen also said he would not be opposed to an increase in Road Service Area taxes if the new revenue went specifically toward upgrading substandard borough-maintained roads to gravel standards. It should not be used to pave roads.

He also said that tax money should be distributed equally and not used primarily in the central peninsula simply because the topography will allow more miles to be built per dollar.

Tim Navarre, Mayor William’s chief of staff, said the borough was not trying to put anything too onerous on developers, but other parts of the state and other cities also have provisions like those being proposed.

He counters Kyllonen’s point.

“Why should the rest of the borough pay for their access?” he said. “We think it is reasonable and fair, but the assembly could consider a change.”

The general public and developers can raise these issues at the two upcoming public hearings, Navarre said.

The assembly passed an ordinance similar to Ordinance 2007-11 several years ago, but it was vetoed by then-borough mayor Dale Bagley.

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.



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