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Cooper Landing highway options still under review

Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2002

A meeting originally planned for Monday to continue the process of selecting an alternative route for the Sterling Highway through Cooper Landing -- Mileposts 45 through 60 -- has been postponed.

"We are currently conducting additional analysis on several of the alternatives, which will not be completed in time for our June meeting," said Miriam Tanaka, project manager for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, in a memo sent to members of the Stakeholders Sounding Board and other interested parties.

Tanaka said she hopes to reschedule the meeting in either late summer or early fall.

The Stakeholders Sounding Board -- the group led by DOT and affiliated consulting agencies and consisting of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Cooper Landing residents and business owners -- formed last year to select an alternate route to alleviate concerns about speeding, seasonal traffic, sharp curves and pedestrian safety through the Cooper Landing corridor.

After determining that alternatives to this stretch of highway needed to be examined, the group began holding meetings to map out and identify possible solutions.

Nine options, including a "no build" option, have been considered between Juneau Creek Falls and the Russian River. DOT intends to have a final route determined by the end of the summer or sometime this fall, said Tanaka.

She said recent DOT cuts will not affect the project because it is federally funded.

A survey was taken earlier this year on the project's Web site, www.sterlinghighway.net, asking respondents, among other things, to identify what was important when considering Sterling Highway transportation issues and to rate the nine options for an alternative. There were 230 respondents, and results were released in April.

Survey results showed the most important issues to be minimizing impact to water quality, wildlife and fish habitats, the Kenai River and recreation areas. Other notable issues included improving driver and pedestrian safety and maintaining the scenic quality of the corridor.

Results also showed the highest "acceptable" rate -- 23 percent, based on a scale ranging from acceptable to unacceptable -- for the Juneau Creek wilderness variant alternative route, a path that cuts through the wilderness north of Juneau Creek Falls at a mild grade.

Although Juneau Creek rated highest in acceptability, there were also 45 percent of the respondents who felt the route was "unacceptable." A high level of "unacceptable" responses for all nine options -- more than 40 percent for each -- as compared to other options on the survey.

Tanaka said this level of response was anticipated.

"It's not really surprising," she said. "This isn't an easy corridor to go through. Any option, including the 'no build' option has impacts."

Tanaka said earlier meetings this year produced a set of evaluation criteria by which alternatives would be narrowed. This criteria included:

Maintaining landscape integrity;

Minimizing the cost of the project;

Minimizing impacts to archaeological sites and cultural resources;

Coordinating with local and regional planning groups;

Facilitating efficient movement of traffic;

Minimizing socioeconomic impacts, both in the short- and long-term.

"At the next meeting, we'll look at the nine alternatives and start applying the evaluation criteria," Tanaka said. "(But) we want the next meeting to be fruitful, and for that we need to get more information."

To receive more information, or to be added to the e-mailing list, contact Mark Dalton at (907) 274-2000.

DOT has a project booth at the Kenai River Festival, which continues today in Kenai.



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