Widening of Parks, Seward highways top list of state's summer road projects

PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
transportation.jpg State transportation Commissioner Joe Perkins laid out plans for a busy highway construction program this summer, speaking before the Resource Development Council in Anchorage on Jan. 25.

One important project is widening the Parks Highway to four lanes all the way to Wasilla. Last year a $50 million interchange was completed at the intersection of the Parks and Glenn highways near Palmer. Widening the Parks to Wasilla will allow commuters there to drive all the way to Anchorage on wider highways without stops, Perkins said.

The Parks will also be widened further north, from White Crossing to the Little Susitna River, Perkins said.

He also said paving will continue this summer on the Dalton Highway, which connects Interior Alaska roads to the North Slope; about 33 miles of the 500-mile Dalton is now paved and another 40 miles will be paved this summer.

Additional contracts for paving will be let this summer, enough to have 40 percent of the entire Dalton paved within a year or two, the commissioner told the RDC.

He said that in addition, more work is planned this summer on the Seward Highway, including widening the road from Seward north for eight miles and around Moose Pass. A bypass will be built at Moose Pass, so that motorists can drive around rather than through the small community.

A lot of work has been done on the Seward Highway in recent years. One major project the department is now working on, Perkins said, is relocating the highway away from a major avalanche exposure area between Indian and Girdwood. The highway will be moved toward the nearby Turnagain Arm shoreline.

Last year major avalanches closed the highway for several days, and an Alaska Railroad employee was killed by slides.

The Seward Highway has been designated as a scenic "All-American Highway" by the federal Department of Transportation, which makes it an important attraction for summer visitors.

Perkins said that on the Sterling Highway, which connects Soldotna, Kenai and Homer with the Seward Highway, a future project involves relocating the highway away from the Kenai River around Cooper Landing.

One big project that will be advertised for bid in late summer on the Glenn Highway is a new bridge to replace the existing one at Caribou Creek. This will be a $35 million to $40 million project, Perkins said.

A lot of improvements have been made on the Glenn Highway, but one project in planning is relocating the highway in the vicinity of Long Lake, the commissioner said.

Improvements are also planned on the Richardson Highway from Glennallen to Delta and on the Tok Cutoff from Gulkana to Tok. Some work will continue on the Alaska Highway from Fairbanks to the Canada border, but this road has seen a great deal of reconstruction in recent years and is now in good shape, Perkins said.

He said a great deal of state and federally funded road improvement work is also planned for Anchorage, including widening Arctic Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway and extending the four-lane width on C Street from International Airport Road to Dimond Boulevard.

A project in the planning stages is an overpass on Minnesota Boulevard at C Street, where there is now a stop light, Perkins said.

The department faces an interesting dilemma of its own making here, the commissioner said. A few years ago, as a part of building Minnesota, an artificial pond was created that has now become home to wild ducks and geese.

The pond is in the center of an established right of way, and must be removed, or moved, if an overpass is to be built. How to deal with the birds has now become a problem, Perkins said.

In terms of maintenance, the state is doing better.

"I think we’re in the best shape we have been in for 10 to 12 years in maintenance, thanks to a decision by the federal government to allow us to spend federal dollars on road reconstruction," Perkins said.

However, the $20 million in federal funds that the department is devoting to what is essentially major maintenance projects on roads could be used to build new projects if the Legislature were to increase state funds for maintenance, Perkins said.

Overall, Alaska’s maintenance spending of state funds on a man-hour-per-miles basis is among the lowest in the nation. That is a result of 10 to 12 years of steady cutting of state road maintenance budgets, Perkins said.

"Our gasoline tax, at 8 cents per gallon, is the lowest in the nation. If we were to raise it to the national average -- 23 cents a gallon -- and dedicate these funds, as well as auto license and registration fees, we could fund our maintenance without any further appropriation from the Legislature," he said.

02/03/2001 - 8:00pm