DOT enlightens Soldotna council with bridge update

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2003

Though he could have used better phrasing when saying the aesthetic design features of the new Kenai River bridge in Soldotna will be "striking" to pedestrians and motorists, the representative from Land Design North was right that the features will be eye-catching.

Dwayne Adams of Land Design North and Judy Dougherty from the Alaska Department of Transporta-tion and Public Facilities gave the Soldotna City Council an update on the bridge project at its Wednesday meeting.

In previous discussions with the council and the public, Adams said the community was clear about the design concept it wanted for the bridge.

"The public didn't want a kitschy design," he said. "They didn't want something with a lot of fish hanging on it."

What people did want was something modern and streamlined with lighting.

Adams brought diagrams of the design for the bridge's pedestrian guardrail and explained the special lighting features the designers came up with.

The pilasters at each end of the bridge and the guardrail along the length of the bridge will include LEDs (light emitting diodes) that will provide both light and color. The LEDs can be programmed to emit a range of colors. They can either emit a single solid color, produce a color scheme like Christmas-themed red and green lights or can gradually cycle through the color spectrum, from purple to orange.

Adams described the lights as producing an aurora effect.

"I think it provides some nice color," he said. "I think it will be a real nice addition."

The lights are fundamentally the same as traffic lights, Adams said. They have a long life, use relatively low electricity and can be programmed by a computer or triggered by photo cells.

Their main appeal, however, is their aesthetics.

"(The lights) give some motion and light in the winter," Adams said. "Something we're always fighting in the design community is how can you take something in the summertime and make it interesting in the wintertime."

Structurally, the pedestrian guardrails on each side of the bridge will have steel handrails that are 54 inches high with special material below that will be see-through, though strong, providing views of the river. Each side of the bridge also will include an overlook area that juts out from the walkways.

The plan for redesigning the approach to the new bridge in-cludes three mini pedestrian parks along the roadway where the sidewalk will curve a little away from the road into an area with trees, lights, landscaping and a bench. Two parks will be between Binkley and Birch streets along the Sterling Highway and a slightly larger one will be south of Binkley Street. The larger park will include a wall with a decorative LED panel similar to the lights that will be on the bridge.

After Adams finished fielding questions about the lights and other aesthetic features of the guardrail design, Dougherty gave an update on the overall project.

She said the planning stage of the bridge project is 99 percent complete.

"We're tidying up the last details, we've gone through almost all the reviews, and we're waiting on some permits and right-of-way issues to clear up," she said. "We're almost there. As soon as we get the right of ways and permits in place, we can advertise (for a contractor)."

DOT has run into some problems obtaining right of ways for the project from various property holders, but Dougherty said those issues are nearly all dealt with.

She anticipates the few right-of-way and permitting issues that remain will be wrapped up in the next six weeks. Though the anticipated time line may change, Dougherty said DOT plans to advertise for a contractor by February and award the contract a few months later.

That means the contractor should begin work in May or June.

"We will see some construction activity this summer, with the temporary bridge in place," Dougherty said.

The contractor's first big task will be to install a temporary bridge across the river that will be at the same elevation as the current bridge.

To do that, the contractor will need to drive 40 piles into the river. The piles will be 36-inch diameter each and placed in groups of five.

Dougherty said the contractor will be able to close the river as needed, but will be required to keep either the north or south channel open to boats during the main fishing season, from mid June to mid August.

The temporary bridge will be two lanes and will have a 25 mph approach, but traffic, even large trucks, will not have to be diverted to the Kenai bridge on Bridge Access Road.

"There's no load limits" Dougherty said. "It's not designed for a seismic event, but other than that it's perfectly adequate."

The scheduled completion date for the project is June 15, 2006, and that includes removing the temporary bridge.

Though that date is years away, Dougherty said the project is on track at this point.

"It always seems really long at this stage, but it's going really well," she said.

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