Road drives safety debate

Posted: Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Hazardous gravel portions of the North Fork Road should be rebuilt and paved, said residents attending a meeting with state lawmakers and roads officials in Anchor Point last week.

If it can't be paved, safety demands at least a new layer of gravel, some meeting attendees said.

Held at the Anchor Point Senior Citizens Center on Nov. 10, the meeting brought about 28 North Fork residents together with Carl High of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, who represents the area in the state Legislature. Also attending the meeting was Gary Davis, roads director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area.

While some residents expressed concern that paving the winding and hilly road would lead to higher driving speeds, most said improvements were needed, not only in the surface itself, but also in the way the current road is maintained, according to a press release issued by Seaton's office.

High told the gathering that a rough estimate for all engineering, preliminary design work, rebuilding and paving the road could cost roughly $1 million a mile. But such a project has several bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

To get there, a North Fork Road project would have to be added to the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) list. The unpaved section from Mile 8.5 to Mile 17 currently sits on a DOT "needs list," a kind of wish list that is a precursor to the STIP list.

A reconstruction and paving project had been on the STIP list in 2001-03 with a score of 88.8 points, but did not progress from there, according to High. To be considered for the STIP list now, project needs a minimum of 115 points, he said.

According to Seaton, the North Fork Road project could gain additional points if the Kenai Peninsula Borough would commit funds to a project. Unless the road project is on the borough's priority list, paving is unlikely to be funded through the STIP list, Seaton said.

Re-evaluating certain criteria such as safety also would earn more points. The fact the North Fork Road serves as the only alternative route north out of Homer is a factor his office would be investigating as a way to boost the safety score, Seaton said.

Any construction effort would take at least three years of research and preliminary work before completion, Seaton noted.

Residents are familiar with the hazardous conditions typical of the roadway during the winter months. But slippery conditions occur in the summer, too, because of the calcium chloride the state applies to control dust. North Fork residents said they believed the poor quality of the road gravel made calcium chloride ineffective.

Seaton said DOT would look at using the more costly product Permazine as a dust-control treatment instead.

Seaton noted that North Fork residents left the meeting intending to keep pressure on local elected officials regarding paving the road.

Davis said Monday that the Road Service Area Board has rejected weighing in on state road projects in the past, neither supporting nor opposing them.

State roads are a DOT purview, Davis said. Generally, that makes them more of a political issue to be left up to the assembly, rather than a practical consideration for the borough road board.

He said it would be up to the Anchor Point community itself, through its advisory planning group, to submit a request to the assembly to make the North Fork a road priority.

However, he also said there were board members familiar with the hazardous North Fork conditions, and that it was possible the board might consider a resolution to the assembly in support of state action. No resolution currently is under consideration.

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