By the end of the month, the daily traffic delays, the endless dust, the acrid smell of hot asphalt and the rumble of heavy equipment will be just memories on a six-mile portion of Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The summer-long upgrade will be complete, according to Alaska Department of Transportation project engineer Gary Kobayashi.
"The contractor was just in my office, saying there were just two weeks of work left," Kobayashi said Monday. "We have just a few small items to go."
Those include the installation of guardrails at Slikok Creek, road signs, paving of the rest of the driveways and approaches, placing of survey monuments, activating traffic signals at Poppy Lane and painting stripes on the new three-lane-wide road.
The road between the Sterling Highway in Soldotna to Bridge Access Road in Kenai is designed with a double left-hand-turn lane between the north and southbound lanes. The turn lane will be about 14-feet wide, while the traffic lanes will be just under 12-feet wide.
The project, bid at $4.2 million, is just 10 percent over budget, which Alaska Department of Transportation project engineer Gary Kobayashi said isn't bad for a project with the number of change orders this job required.
With the addition of the turn lane, however, motorists interested in driving the speed limit while those in front insist on going slower, may be tempting the law if they pass.
"(The turn lane) is not advisable for passing. Its intent is to get turning traffic off the through lane," Kobayashi said. "There's nothing we can do about people who drive too slow, unfortunately."
Most of K-Beach Road under the old alignment allowed for passing.
Kobayashi said the contractor, Foster Construction of Soldotna, has done a good job with the road, the bike path and landscaping.
"Considering how flat the terrain is, they did a good job," he said.
The flatness of the route could create drainage problems on the roadside, but Kobayashi said the geotechnical studies of the area indicate the soil under the roadside is "free-draining gravel."
The flatness of the road will be tested this week with a device called a "profile-o-graph," which will measure how smooth the road is.
The project, bid at $4.2 million, is just 10 percent over budget, which Kobayashi said isn't bad for a project with the number of change orders this job required.
Some of that overrun came from building up some portions of the road rather than grading down high spots. Kobayashi said that while it cost more than if it were all level, the state saved money because it would have been even more expensive to grade down the high spots, since that would require digging two feet deeper to rebuild the road bed.
Besides the wider, flatter and smoother surface to drive on, motorists may notice how much more visibility there is in the vicinity of the Soldotna Sports Center and Little League fields. The rise that obscured the line of sight there has been flattened, allowing drivers to see much further down the road.
Another safety improvement is the new paved bike path that runs the length of the project. It's already getting used, Kobayashi said.
"More and more every day," he said. "Even when the paths were just (gravel) I noticed quite a few joggers. Now that it's paved, we'll see more moms with strollers, bikers and Rollerbladers."
Speaking of bike trails, Kobayashi said the contract to construct the Unity Trail, a bike path between Kenai and Soldotna along the Kenai Spur Highway will go out to bid this fall or winter and should be in place for construction to begin next spring.
The Unity Trail, in conjunction with the new K-Beach path and existing paths in Kenai and Soldotna, would almost make a complete loop between the sister cities. The only portion of the 22-mile circuit that won't have a dedicated path will be Bridge Access Road.
The Unity Trail is being designed by R and M Construction of Anchorage.
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