Just in time for the increase in traffic on the Kenai Peninsula that comes with the Fourth of July holiday, a new Bureau of Highway Patrol unit opened in Soldotna.
As part of a new bureau within Alaska State Troopers, the highway patrol, which opened July 1, will primarily focus on highway enforcement, said Eugene Fowler, highway patrol sergeant.
"The idea is to create a separate unit with a main focus of highway enforcement," Fowler said.
In Alaska, troopers handle every service call that occurs outside of city limits. Anything from a broken window to an assault, troopers respond to. Because troopers cover such a wide range of calls in a massive jurisdiction, highway enforcement hasn't been a top priority, Fowler said.
The new bureau is hoping to change that.
"(Traffic complaints) are now going to be tasked to the bureau, and that frees up other units," Fowler said. "The idea is to try and cover as much road as possible. Hopefully, we'll make a positive impact by doing this."
The bureau was created in December of last year with the opening of two units, one in Palmer and the other in Fairbanks.
"This is a brand new concept," Fowler said.
The goal from the beginning of the program was to have three units throughout the state.
Fowler said Soldotna, Palmer and Fairbanks are three cities with large a concentration of people on the road systems, making them ideal locations for the new highway patrol units. Those cities also act as trooper training posts.
The bureau will look for aggressive drivers, speeders and impaired drivers to reduce the number of serious injuries. The Soldotna team will cover the entire Kenai Peninsula.
"(We'll be) everywhere we can be," Fowler said.
Turnagain Arm and the stretch of road from Mackey Lake to the Sterling weigh station are two notorious areas for highway crashes and fatalities, which the highway patrol will be focusing on.
"We're trying to flag these areas," Fowler said.
Fines and number of points on a driver's license are doubled in the Sterling area where marked.
The officers on duty will fit their schedule around peak hours of traffic and/or violations. Fowler said this is based on the statistics over the last decade to see where and when their services is needed on the peninsula.
"We're trying to address any issues out there to keep Alaska safe," he said. "That's our mission as troopers."
So far, the Soldotna unit has Sgt. Fowler and one other officer. Within the next three to six months, Fowler said the bureau should be expanding to include two more officers.
The bureau will be working with the other units throughout the state for large events, such as Seward's Fourth of July celebration and the state fair.
"This is a real statewide team concept," Fowler said.
Safety is the bureau's main concern.
"We're trying to slow people down and make them aware of their driving," Fowler said. "We're trying to make a positive influence on the community and keep the community safer."
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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