Road plan under review

Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2002

It's been 10 years since the Kenai Peninsula Borough performed a wholesale review of its transportation infrastructure, but borough planners are set to study the future of peninsula roads, bridges, airports, trails and more with the help of a hefty state grant.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has given the borough nearly $182,000 to produce a boroughwide transportation plan good for the next decade. The borough is kicking in enough to bring the entire grant budget to $200,000. The plan will become part of the borough's comprehensive plan.

Planners are working on the details of a request for proposals, or RFP, and will soon seek bids for professional services to help prepare the plan. The terms of the state grant require the borough to spend the money by October of next year.

Borough Planning Director Max Best said one immediate problem the transportation study may serve to resolve is traffic flow in and around subdivisions. There are places in the borough where collector roads are inadequate for the current traffic, he said.

"We need wider feeder roads -- some sort of overall plan that would show where these routes would go," he said.

Improved subdivision planning with clear direction from a transportation plan for handling subdivision, collector and main thoroughfares would help, he said.

When completed, the proposed transportation plan will review traffic counts for the past five years and measure current traffic on all collector roads. It will investigate traffic trends on highways, collector roads, trails, railroads, airports and the marine highway system within the borough. Bridges will be inspected and reviewed, and priorities set for improvements. Trail use will be analyzed and needs identified. Estimates of population growth and traffic flows for the next 10 years will be made for each sector.

From all that, the plan will generate recommendations for specific upgrades, major maintenance priorities and capital improvement projects.

Assembly President Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, said he sees the possibility of a more efficient mass transit system for the borough as an eventual outcome of the transportation study.

"I'm curious about the future of transportation in the borough, and I see the study as a really excellent tie-in to the review and rewrite of the borough's comprehensive plan," he said.

The borough should discuss the long-range opportunities for expanding rail service on the peninsula, he said. However, the cost of a rail system and the number of customers it would need to be viable likely mean expanding that particular transportation mode is some distance out into the future, he cautioned.

More immediate, perhaps, would be bus service in and between communities across the borough.

"I see that as realistic," he said.

Sprague said the study might produce results no one anticipates today. "There may be opportunities out there we aren't even aware of in what is basically a large rural area," he said.

The grant money will be well spent, he said.

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley said the state transportation department has been urging the borough to update its transportation plan, wanting "a better comfort level" that overriding transportation issues had been studied thoroughly when the borough comes forward to propose new road improvement projects.

A new transportation plan should be able to give the borough a better handle on road use at various times of the year, he said.

On the future of bus service, Bagley said there have been private sector attempts at offering intercity services. Currently, there are two companies out of Homer offering passenger and freight services between Homer, the central peninsula, Anchorage and Seward. How much help the new transportation plan will be to private enterprise interested in providing transportation services, Bagley said he didn't know.

"There is a need," the mayor said. "But how much government should be helping satisfy that need is always the big question that gets debated." The borough does help fund Central Area Rural Transit System Inc., he added.

Traffic counts might be helpful to entrepreneurs looking to start new businesses who may be interested in traffic patterns in different locales, Bagley said. The transportation plan also might prove useful in providing sound numbers to borough planners as they outline priorities for future capital improvement projects, he noted.

A decade ago, a boroughwide look at transportation issues noted several concerns. Among them was a lack of road construction powers.

The borough had limited ability to build roads and was virtually required to use state grants to do so, until 2000, when the municipality assumed expanded road powers, allowing the borough to construct roads even without state money, according to borough attorney Colette Thompson. In most cases, however, those planning new road projects are likely to continue seeking state grant funding, she said.

In 1992, the borough comprehensive plan said street names were a problem. Much work has been done to correct those issues since, Sprague said.

Ten years ago, the borough levied a .5-mill property tax on road service area residents. Today, taxpayers are chipping in at the rate of 1.5 mills, providing more money for road maintenance outside the cities.

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