Bridge work won't slow traffic soon

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

Motorists in Soldotna won't have to face any more than the usual gridlock this summer at the David Douthit Memorial Bridge.

Construction on a planned $28 million state of Alaska project to replace the aging, two-lane crossing has been delayed indefinitely, according to Project Engineer Judy Daugherty with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Daugherty said the state is not sure when the project will get underway, but she's sure it won't take place in the next few months.

"Not this summer," she said Friday.

The state originally planned to begin work on the bridge during this year's construction season. However, an ongoing right-of-way acquisition dispute among other things has caused the state to delay those plans. Daugherty said the project still is very much in the works.

"We're going forward, we're just going slowly," she said.

The right-of-way issue is now in the court system, but Daugherty said other delays are holding up the project. The state has yet to finalize its utility plans, and not all environmental permits needed to start work have been received.

The delays mean that, even if the state were able to acquire the necessary right-of-way, permits and plans, the project has been held up too long to get started this summer.

"It's a several-month process from actually having the design done to being able to start construction," Daugherty said.

As for when construction might begin, Daugherty said the state's hands are tied until the land dispute is resolved.

"Since our right-of-way acquisition has gone into the court system, we don't know," she said.

The news of the property dispute is nothing new. Soldotna Public Works Director Steve Bonebrake warned the Soldotna City Council last month that it was possible the project could be delayed.

The bridge replacement project has been a dream of Soldotna residents for years, as the new bridge is expected to reduce traffic jams at what's become perhaps the peninsula's most notorious summertime bottleneck.

The new, five-lane bridge is expected to ease this congestion, but motorists in the city had been bracing for a potentially difficult summer of additional construction delays. After this latest development in the bridge saga, they'll just have to wait.

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