Paperwork now focus of road fixes

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2002

Immediate emergency work on roads, bridges and culverts damaged by back-to-back floods in late November and early December have mostly been completed, and state transportation officials are looking ahead to more permanent repairs.

"Much of the work we were going to do in the fall and winter, as far as immediate response, is done," said Dave Eberle, regional director of the Alaska Department of Transportation's Central Region. "Now we are working with the Federal Highway Administra-tion and Federal Emergency Management Agency on long-term fixes, identifying what needs to be done to follow up."

At many places along the Sterling Highway, floods tore up pavement, undermined bridges, clogged overwhelmed culverts and forced closure of the highway for days at a time, cutting residents of the lower Kenai Peninsula off from their neighbors to the north.

Now, DOT officials are identifying those areas where the emergency repairs won't be enough and figuring the costs of making bridges larger, replacing culverts with bridges or installing larger culverts less likely to be clogged with flood-borne debris, Eberle said.

At the moment, the focus is on supplying the Federal Highway Administration with the necessary paperwork. The administration covers the national highway system, of which the Sterling Highway is a part. So are major collectors like East End Road east of Homer and Funny River Road, Eberle said.

"We are looking at recommending permanent fixes," he said.

State bridge designers are reviewing the flood-flow capacity of those bridges and culverts. Some of the recommendations likely to be made include enlarging the Deep Creek Bridge, replacing culverts at Stariski Creek with a bridge and installing larger, so-called box culverts beneath the highway just below the Anchor River Inn at Anchor Point.

There, the floods clogged the existing culverts so badly that the river backed up behind the highway, in effect making the raised roadway an earthen dam.

"We actually had damage to the embankment," Eberle said.

That damage, called piping, resulted when the pressure of the water forced it through the earth, allowing the water to carry away the "fines" -- fine particles of dirt.

"The integrity of the embankment has been compromised," Eberle said.

Elsewhere south of Anchor Point where the flood covered the highway, such as at Black Water Bend, DOT crews and hired contractors have been installing riprap -- large stones -- to protect the road. Still more riprap work will be done next year.

In some areas along the stretch between Homer and Anchor Point more permanent fixes will await an upgrade project for that portion of the Sterling Highway, he said.

Meanwhile, damage to side roads and bridges off the highway system are in line for repair funding through FEMA, Eberle said.

For instance, the bridge leading to Ninilchik Village has been repaired. It will be up to FEMA to determine if further funding will replace the structure with a beefed up bridge capable of passing more flood water beneath it.

Repairs to the highway and smaller roads will be expensive, but estimates about how expensive have not been competed. Eberle said he does not expect the cost to interfere with maintenance and reconstruction efforts already scheduled by the state.

"We are hopeful that virtually all (repair and response) funding will be reimbursed through emergency funding," he said.

"I think there is a relatively high probability it will. If we have to eat part of it, it wouldn't be at a magnitude to jeopardize the rest of the program."

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