DOT: ATVs cause erosion

Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Alaska Department of Transportation spends between $10,000 and $15,000 in the Kenai and Soldotna area repairing road damage allegedly caused by all-terrain vehicles each year.

"It's a constant battle," said Kenai Peninsula District Superintendent Carl High.

He said that approximately 200 man-hours go into repairing areas allegedly damaged by ATV traffic. Echo Lake Road, Gas Well Road and the main highways warrant regular attention from the department. Once or twice a year, DOT receives reports that four wheelers have dug into the roadside area and disrupted a resident's phone service, the superintendent said.

The damage occurs when ATVs drive too close to the shoulder and eat away at the material supporting the asphalt. This can break the pavement along the edge of the road. The eroding process creates a vertical edge along the road, which can hook tires and lead to accidents.

Four wheeler riders are required to drive at least three feet away from the roadway, according to Alaska state law. The superintendent asked riders to follow the law especially during early spring.

"They do a lot of damage during break-up when the ground is soft and muddy," he said.

Zach Johnston, one of the owners of Peninsula Power Sports, guessed that much of the damage occurs when ATVs drive along roads between unconnected trails. ATVs may cross highways when both directions of traffic are visible, at a right angle to the roadway and without interfering with other highway traffic, according to state law.

Johnston believed that four wheelers can chew away the sides of roads, but only if riders drove through in large numbers or high frequency. But he didn't believe that ATVs damaged roadways by driving directly on the pavement itself. An all terrain vehicle usually weighs about one-tenth of an average car.

"I don't see the road going to pot," he said.

Ron's Honda Center mechanic Perry Johnson has a hard time imagining four wheelers damaging paved roads. "Unless they flipped the machine and it jackhammered itself into asphalt," he said. "But that's a really extreme situation."

In his opinion, four wheelers post a bigger threat to lawns alongside paved thoroughfares.

Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said that he has received 24 complaints regarding ATV or dirtbikes this year, compared to 58 in 2009. Quite a few of them pertain to alleged riding or speeding down roadways, the chief said, but records don't indicate the nature of the offense.

Soldotna Police Sgt. Robb Quelland said that the majority of illegal riding in the city occurs near the Birch Ridge Golf Course or the Kenai Peninsula College. The majority of calls originate there because the roads straddle city limits. According to Quelland, most four wheel riders don't realize they've crossed into Soldotna.

"One block is inside the city and one block isn't," he said.

It's a rare problem though, he said. His department issued three citations to ATV riders last year, and none to date in 2010.

"That doesn't mean we don't them, though," he said.

Tony Cella can be reached at

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