Soldotna business owners push for completion of work by July target date

Crews begin pounding the pavement

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

Do whatever you have to, just keep our road clear in July.

That was the sentiment of many of those attending Tuesday's Soldotna Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Tom Pitt and Chuck Swenor, the top two officials responsible for repaving the Sterling Highway through the heart of downtown, spoke.

Pitt is the project supervisor for CoAlaska-Quality Asphalt Paving, the contractor, and Swenor is the project engineer on the job for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The repaving project goes from East Redoubt Avenue to Kobuk Drive, through the busiest part of the city. It ends about two blocks from the Kenai River bridge.

Pitt said he has offered to grind the asphalt down from there to Riverside Drive and resurface it, but Swenor said he has not gotten approval from his superiors to do that.

Wednesday night, the Soldotna City Council passed a resolution requesting DOT approve that.

The council also directed City Manager Tom Boedeker to write a "strongly worded" letter to the DOT encouraging the agency to add a traffic light at the intersection at Kobuk and adding at least the in-road sensors for a future traffic light at Birch Street.

The council felt compelled to ask for the light and sensors -- items that have been discussed in the past -- because if the expensive new asphalt is laid down, it may cause DOT to be less likely to install later.

"If they're putting in asphalt three times more expensive than usual, they're going to be three times less likely to rip it up," said Public Works Director Steve Bonebrake.

The council plans on meeting in a short special session on Monday to pass a resolution to the same effect.

Swenor said a new asphalt paving material with a different mix of oil and aggregate will make its debut on the peninsula in this project. Used extensively in Anchorage, the asphalt will contain cellulose, which Pitt described as "a newspaper substance."

"It should last a lot longer," Swenor said.

Soldotna business owner Peggy Mullen urged the council Wednesday night to hold DOT's "feet to the fire."

Mullen also decried what she described as inadequate distance between traffic and the sidewalk, making the stretch unfriendly to pedestrians.

The Sterling Highway project involves grinding off the top 2 inches of asphalt from the four-lane road and turning lane, repaving it, installing all new sidewalks, gutters, light posts, street lights, traffic lights and an extra east-bound through-lane where the Sterling crosses the Kenai Spur Highway. The first 400 feet of the Spur will get the same treatment.

The only section of the road that will be rebuilt from the roadbed up will be east of the Y, where the existing asphalt is less than 4 inches thick.

The curbs and gutters will be concrete, but the road and sidewalks asphalt, Swenor said.

"This is a pretty easy job," he said. "I was involved in the Mile 0 to 2.8 on the Kenai Spur Highway (repaving), and that was a lot tougher than this one."

Pitt agreed.

"This is pretty easy. We'll do the outside lanes first and move the traffic to the middle, then we'll put the traffic outside," he said. "There won't be much traffic disruption. Not much worse than right now."

Those attending the chamber lunch had to weave through orange road cones and cross the remnants of the sidewalk to reach the Riverside House. High noon traffic in the area did not appear to be hampered by the work.

But the disruption of tourist and business traffic was the main concern of many, with commuter traffic delays taking a back seat.

Pitt said his crews will be working 10 hours a day, six days a week, with slowdowns during the morning and evening rush hours, unless residents could put up with more work.

"I think whatever it takes to keep the road and bridge open by July will save you a lot of phone calls," said Soldotna council member Joyce Cox.

"It's to our benefit to work as fast as possible, too," Pitt said.

Swenor said subcontractors, such as those laying pipe, will work nights to further reduce traffic disruption.

Both said the mainline paving should be done by the end of June, though light poles and sidewalks will take longer. Since that work is off the road, traffic disturbance should be minimal.

The only detour expected will be when pipe is installed at the Y, Swenor said. Vehicles will be directed around it through South Birch or Binkley, hopefully for only one day. There could be some delays in turning across traffic, but he said they should be minimal. The contractor is allowed to delay traffic up to 20 minutes at a time, but Swenor said that is unlikely in this project.

"There are a lot of lanes, and we can only work on so many at a time," Pitt added.

With the new traffic lights come a new control system, which will synchronize the lights through the one-mile stretch.

"It will interconnect the intersections so you won't get stopped at all three, as long as you're going the speed limit," Swenor said. "There's no reason to speed anymore."

Another feature of the project will be a sedimentation pond south of the highway to collect street runoff and clean it before it enters the river. Sediment in the runoff will settle out of the water and can be pumped away later. It is similar to a settling pond used a couple of miles north along the Spur Highway.

While not directly involved in the project, Swenor did say the contract for improving the Sterling Highway bridge will be let next year, with construction due to start in 2003. That project will widen the bridge to five lanes and add a pedestrian path. Consternation over that project delaying traffic will most likely dwarf the Sterling Highway repaving.

The joint DOT and CoAlaska-Quality Asphalt project office for this job has been set up in the Peninsula Center Mall, and Swenor said anyone with questions or comments is welcome to visit.

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