Road work begins as snow finally recedes

Thu, 05/16/2013 - 7:25am
Josh Holly, of Specialty Excavators, shows Konstantin Reutov, a 16-year-old Kachemak-Selo student, around an excavator on April 30 during the Alaska Construction Career Day at the Soldotna Sports Center in Soldotna. A busy construction season is on tap for Alaska this summer and jobs in the field have increased by more than 3,000 since bottoming out in August 2011.

As much as rousting bears are a rite of spring, so is the rousting of construction equipment.

The state’s new project road construction budget is $353 million for 2013, up 24 percent from the $285 million of 2012, according to Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities figures.

Probably the most visible project in the state, the Dowling Road to Tudor Road construction on the Seward Highway in Anchorage is ramping up again, DOT Central Region spokesman Rick Feller said. This summer’s work on the stretch of highway will be done with a portion of the  $54 million appropriated to the project prior to last year’s work.

“We’re essentially adding additional lanes northbound and southbound with (the Seward Highway) project. Last year we focused a lot on the southbound lanes now we’re shifting over to the northbound lanes,” Feller said.

Similar to last year, drivers can expect lane restrictions on both sides of the highway this summer. Feller said, weather permitting of course, the project wrap up in June 2014.

DOT will be doing more work along the Seward Highway as part of the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program. Feller said drivers can expect lane restrictions at various points along the Turnagain Arm stretch of the highway all season. The staged work will be done along stretches of road from milepost 68 in Turnagain Pass to the weigh station at milepost 115 near Potter Marsh and Anchorage.

Three northbound and one southbound passing lane will be added to the Seward highway in the 47-mile stretch. Four northbound and two southbound slow vehicle turnouts will also be constructed.

Further south, resurfacing projects on the Sterling Highway will slow Kenai Peninsula traffic. The southern section of the Sterling — miles 150-173 near Homer — will be repaved by crews working overnight from June through September, Feller said.

Miles 45-58 of the Sterling around Cooper Landing are also getting fresh pavement. DOT is also replacing about 90 culverts in the 13-mile stretch. That work has already begun and will continue through late September. Feller said lane restrictions will be in effect on both ends of the highway, particularly in the Cooper Landing area where the winding highway and surrounding terrain offer few alternative routes.

Resurfacing projects on the southern end of the Parks highway will be on a five-mile stretch between Big Lake and Houston and from milepost 83-90 further north. The northern project will cost approximately $16 million and will include several stretches of roadbed replacement, an effort by DOT to eliminate the need for spring weight restrictions, Feller said.

One project that won’t impact traffic much is the Dowling Road extension from C Street to Minnesota Drive in Anchorage. It’s the last major piece of the multi-year Dowling Road makeover.

North Region

DOT spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said the department’s North Region highway budget is $230 million this year — $89 million of which is carryover money from contracts awarded in earlier years.

Much of the work will be “safety work” done on the Dalton Highway, she said. Bailey described the work as projects to straighten dangerous corners and raise low, flood-prone stretches of road.

“Even though there’s a lot of projects going on (on the Dalton) we want to be realistic with people that really what we’re trying to do is maintain the safety of the road for the large commercial vehicles — the primary traffic on the road,” Bailey said.

The two-year Illinois Street revamp in Fairbanks will be finishing up this year. Bailey said the street will be closed once more for about three weeks in May and June. Last year DOT built a new Illinois Street bridge over the Chena River.

Just outside Fairbanks on the Steese Highway preventative maintenance can be expected. This will be resurfacing work done before the roadbed is damaged, Bailey said. Steese Highway drivers can expect lane restrictions there.

A large project on the stretch of the Glenn Highway that runs through Glennallen will include guardrail replacement, adding a bike path to the side of the road and replacing a small bridge, Bailey said. She added that the project was scheduled to span two years but the contracting company expects to get it done late this summer, despite being delayed by a late spring.

“We tried to start work a couple weeks ago and as (crews) were trying to put the construction signs in, the ground was still frozen,” Bailey said.

The slow thaw will push the opening of the Denali highway back multiple weeks from its usual mid-May opening, she said. Road crews have been busy dealing with spring snows on the Richardson and Parks highways and have not been able to clear the Denali.

Southeast Region

Juneau-area drivers can expect construction on two stretches of the Glacier Highway. The intersection of the Glacier Highway and Back Loop Road is being reconstructed to improve pedestrian safety. This work will begin this summer, DOT Southeast Region spokesman Jeremy Woodrow wrote.

Ongoing work to widened and straighten the Glacier Highway from Eagle Beach to Bessie Creek will continue.

In Ketchikan the North Tongass Pavement Rehabilitation project from miles 12-16 is scheduled to start soon. The road’s chip-sealed surface will be changed to asphalt, according to Woodrow. Guardrails will also be added and replaced along the stretch.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at