Plan makes upgrading roads priority

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

Maintaining and upgrading borough roads should be the municipality's prime goal as it considers future transportation projects, according to the latest draft of an updated Kenai Peninsula Borough Transportation Plan now under consideration.

Released in mid-November by HDR Alaska Inc., the Anchorage firm the borough hired to produce an update of the transportation plan, the draft is set for a final public hearing before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a vote on adoption at the Dec. 16 assembly meeting. The plan may be viewed online at

The plan was last updated in 1992. An introduction outlines the extent of transportation modes serving the peninsula.

A region important to the state's economy, the Kenai Peninsula is served by three major highways, the Seward, Sterling and Kenai Spur, 650 miles of state-maintained roads, 600 miles of borough-maintained roads and miles of roads maintained by borough cities.

It also has three public ports, four small boat harbors, 14 public airports, as well as many private facilities providing air and water access to parts of the borough. In addition, the Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage and Seward, while the Alaska Marine Highway System operates ferries between Seward, Homer, Seldovia, Kodiak Island, Prince William Sound, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands.

The new plan lists several goals and objectives considered to be important to the borough's future. Leading the list is "to continue and improve maintenance and upgrading of borough roads."

To that end the plan suggests developing criteria for evaluating, selecting and scheduling candidate road improvement projects, determining how much money is needed to fund maintenance and upgrades, and exploring a variety of possible funding means -- such as advocating direct allocation of federal highway money to local road projects and pushing for a state general fund program for borough capital improvement projects and state roads within the borough.

Other goals listed in the draft plan include:

Establishing procedures and incentives to upgrade substandard roads and bridges;

Establishing a means by which the borough can improve the likelihood that roads built as part of a residential development are constructed to borough standards;

Creating trails or pedestrian walkways along highways and other busy roads, especially within communities;

Keeping existing trails in public use as the borough develops and land is increasingly subdivided and improved;

Supporting and promoting the continuation and expansion of cost-effective transit service within the borough;

Promoting economic development and providing support facilities for fishing and recreation through maintenance and expansion of ports and harbors within the borough;

Encouraging expansion of ferry service, particularly to coastal communities within the borough not otherwise linked to the road system;

Promoting maintenance and improvement of a network of district and local airports to service borough communities;

Working proactively to control the development of private airstrips that negatively impact residences and cause airspace conflicts;

Encouraging continuation and expansion of rail service to the Kenai Peninsula;

Increasing borough and community involvement in state and federal transportation capital planning;

Continuing and enhancing joint transportation planning with the cities within the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The draft also includes various details about the specific modes of transportation. For instance boroughwide, highway traffic has grown dramatically in the past 20 years.

"The combination of population growth in the borough and increased levels of visitation by car have resulted in 2002 borough traffic levels two to three times those of 1982," the report said.

Not unexpectedly, the heaviest traffic anywhere in the borough is to be found in the Kenai-Soldotna-Sterling triangle.

The Alaska Department of Transportation uses traffic-recording devices in 11 locations. Two graphs used in the report demonstrate the way the data is used.

Records from a Sterling Highway recorder six miles east of Soldotna show the average daily traffic in 1979 was about 2,500 vehicles a day.

By 2002, that figure reached better than 8,000 per day.

The summer months see far more traffic than the rest of the year on the Sterling and Seward Highways. In 2002, the average daily traffic in July was 13,500 vehicles per day. In January, the average was 5,600 a day.

Another issue covered in the draft report concerns bridges.

"Bridges are critical road infrastructure that cost significantly more per lineal foot than roads," the report said. "And as recent events have demonstrated, bridges are in locations more subject to damage by natural events."

There are about 60 significant bridges on public roads in the borough, almost all state-owned and maintained. The borough owns three. Natural events like floods and earthquakes can have a dramatic effect on transportation should those bridges be rendered unusable, as occurred during last year's floods.

In addition, the report noted, numerous small bridges and culverts under city, borough and state roads not inventoried in the draft plan also could close roads if they washed out.

As offered in earlier drafts, HDR has suggested steps the borough might consider to help shape and improve its transportation facilities and services. For instance, while a state-funded local road program has been a topic of discussion, boosting the borough road service area property tax mill rate, currently at 1.5 mills, also could increase road funding, the report said.

The borough could help ensure that subdivision roads are built to borough standards by requiring posted bonds by developers, requiring roads be improved to standards prior to plat approval, and establishing a local improvement district to include the subdivision.

The borough also might gain leverage over transportation and community development by planning roads accordingly, the report suggested.

Among other things, that could include a "corridor preservation program" that would ensure that when a collector-level road is needed to connect subdivisions with highways or other arterials, the right-of-way would be in hand or readily available.

Other suggestions included pressing the state to include sidewalks and separated paths be part of state road projects, developing an ordinance providing for public trail dedication and expanding public transportation.

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