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DOT's way to be High way

New chief addresses chamber luncheon

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

The new Department of Transportation and Public Facilities superintendent for the Kenai Peninsula held a question-and-answer session with members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce at its weekly luncheon Wednesday.

Carl High, who assumed the duties of maintaining roads Aug. 1, said being superintendent is a tough job to walk into, especially following the retirement of 10-year superintendent George Church.

High moved to Alaska in 1978, and to Homer in 1983. He worked in construction, apprenticing with the Operating Engineers union. His work experience includes projects in Prudhoe Bay, Amchitka Island, Southeast and the Bradley Lake hydroelectric project.

"I sure would like to see more of those built, it's good, clean power with a 100-year plant," he said.

Saying he was tired of being away from his family so much, he hired on with DOT five years ago and soon after took over the Homer maintenance shop.

He prefaced his remarks by saying DOT is caught between the state budget and the public.

"Believe it or not, we do get complaints once in a while. We know what needs to be done, but with a flat line budget, it's a real balancing act," he said. "Unfortu-nately, that led to some pretty tight times. You know firsthand, when they closed the Nikiski shop."

He said his shop is trying to be more efficient, buying trucks with additional extended blades on them that plow snow more quickly. It has taken 12 hours to plow all the roads DOT is responsible for, but High said he hopes to get it down to eight hours.

"But unfortunately, they're thinking of reducing services," High said. "Personally, I believe they're cutting on the wrong end of the cow."

He also urged the public -- several times in his speech -- to get involved.

"I want to thank everyone who helped get the North Road station open again," he said. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

"And if you ever see anything that is unsafe, give us a call. We may or may not have heard about it."

He pointed out that the money the Legislature approved to reopen the Nikiski maintenance yard was a one-year appropriation.

"Every time you see something come up in your area, get involved, get your two-cents worth in," he said.

High said the repaving projects in Kenai and Soldotna are just a little bit behind schedule. He said Alaska Road Builders, the contractor on the Kenai Spur Highway Mile 10 to 22 project, has a project in Homer that needs its asphalt plant, and the construction season is rapidly coming to a close.

Kenai Chamber President Robert Peterkin, who lives in Nikiski, praised the recent road work on the Spur Highway, saying it's the best it's ever been.

High said the road was "gone," and DOT personnel were patching patches with cold mix asphalt.

The departing asphalt cooker will have no effect on the Mile 22-29 resurfacing project -- expected to begin soon -- as Foster Construction has that contract.

Barry Eldridge asked High about several proposed projects, including completion of the Unity Trail Loop and extending the Spur Highway past Captain Cook State Park.

Though new to the job, High already has learned some political tact.

"Even if I was to quote from the improvement plan, I'd hate too, because it would make a liar out of me," he said, referring to the ever-changing nature of the State Transportation Improvement Plan, or STIP.

Eldridge praised the Kaliforn-sky Beach Road trail, built less than a year ago and filled with dozens of walkers, runners and bicyclists daily, but asked why no parking places were designed into the plan for people who use the 6-mile path as a destination for recreating.

High said DOT designers often don't take that into consideration. He pointed out the trail on the Homer Spit, which was built with only six parking spaces.

"It's full in the dead of winter," he said.

"That's another reason for people to get involved in the planing process."

Kenai Mayor John Williams asked how soon the state would turn over maintenance duties to the city for Redoubt Avenue and Forest Drive, roads the DOT has plowed and recently repaved.

"We'll work with you," High said. "The sooner you take it over, the more time we'll have with other needs."

The speaker at next week's luncheon at Old Town Village Restau-rant will be Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. board president Diana Zirul.

Lunch is at noon and is open to the public.



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