Sterling — scenic but unsafe?

Fatal accident rate garners highway section dubious recognition

Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Thirty-one people died in traffic accidents on the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Soldotna from 1977 to 2005.

That’s enough to earn the stretch of highway the dubious distinction of being named a traffic safety corridor by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

For the motorist, that means fines for speeding and other traffic infractions in the area will be doubled.

For the state, it means a three-prong program will be launched by the end of the year involving highway engineering, public education and law enforcement, according to DOT central region spokesman Rick Feller.

“The rollout means more than posting signs,” Feller said, explaining that the state will start making people aware of the dangerous stretch of road as well as advising motorists of the double-fine zone.

He said new yellow-orange warnings — similar to those used in highway construction zones — will be attached to existing speed limit signs.

Movable message signs also will be deployed, he said.

The portion of the Sterling Highway from the truck weigh station in Sterling to the Soldotna “Y” is one of five traffic safety corridors designated in DOT’s central region.

Others include a section of the Seward Highway from Mile 100 north of Girdwood to the Potter Marsh; the Palmer-Wasilla Highway from the Glenn Highway to the Parks Highway; the Parks Highway from Lucus Road to the Alaska Railroad crossing at Houston; and Knik-Goose Bay Road from the Parks Highway to Point McKenzie Road.

Feller said much of the Seward Highway north of Girdwood has already been engineered into a multi-lane highway and the colored warnings have been attached to speed limit signs. The movable traffic information signs also have been used there.

The timing of starting the program on the Sterling Highway is dependent on Alaska State Troopers availability.

“We would want to coordinate with troopers to be sure they have adequate forces,” Feller said.

When asked about a shortage of state troopers on the Kenai Peninsula often talked about by the Department of Public Safety, Feller said DOT would make funding available to pay for trooper overtime, as it did for trooper deployment along the highway from Potter Marsh to Girdwood last spring.

Feller also said concrete dividers down the center of the highways would have a positive effect as far as preventing head-on collisions, but would restrict access for emergency response vehicles and would create problems for snow removal, possibly adding to safety concerns.

As part of the rollout on the Sterling Highway, Feller said the transportation department will be sending out public service announcements to encourage people to obey posted speed limits.

“We will not change the limits, but will increase the fines,” he said.

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