I would like to comment on the alternative routes mentioned by Elizabeth Earl in her article of Nov. 16. I understand this rerouting has been in the planning stage for decades. Any route the DOT chooses will not be safe in the Cooper Landing area considering the traffic, avalanches and winter travel in general on the Seward Highway and the Sterling Highway. My comments are not meant to stop the process of this rerouting.
My wife and I frequently drive these roads from Soldotna to either Anchorage or Seward where our son and his family live. A few years ago an avalanche blocked the Seward Highway south of Tern Lake minutes after we had passed through on our return to Soldotna from Seward. Of course it covered the railroad also. This is not all that unusual to happen along the entire Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward in the winter. It not only blocks the highway but also the railroad causing delays as well as being dangerous to all travelers.
An alternative to this has been discussed before by those in control, but I would like to elaborate a little further. The future of the oil industry is going to expand in Alaska, even more so with the new federal administration, I feel certain. The proposed pipeline to Nikiski seems to be in the process at this moment, buying up space for their own operations and rerouting the road between Nikiski and the city of Kenai. New discoveries on the west side of the Peninsula are frequently mentioned in the news.
In my estimation the money spent on the proposed Cooper Landing could be better used on a Turnagain Arm Bridge that could serve multiple purposes. This bridge would not only cut the distance to Anchorage safely, being there are no mountain passes to navigate. The distance traveled would save about 100 miles from Soldotna. Currently it is 150 miles from Soldotna to Anchorage on the current road system. This 100 mile savings would be wonderful for five high schools on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula that travel constantly to Anchorage for various events, with more safety.
This bridge could also work in concert with the railroad, with no more avalanches to be concerned with, serving a growing population on the west side of the Kenai. The planned pipeline could be included eliminating the need to be placed under the Inlet, instead crossing on the bridge to reach the oil and gas facilities at Nikiski. Oil field traffic would be cut from the current road system.
No mountains to speak of, no avalanches, no great passes, shorter, safer road between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula for travelers, freight movement, and still retain the east side access to Girdwood and Seward.
Cost of construction could be shared by the Highway Department, the Alaska Rail System, and the oil industry with a savings in money, travel time, safety and provide greatly to the economy of the west side of the Kenai Peninsula. Perhaps the Kenai Borough would be interested in sharing the cost. If the Alaska Railroad would be interested they could conceivably consider a spur to Homer or connect with its line to Seward.
Let’s also consider natural disasters and the routes for escape. The distance from Nikiski, across the Inlet to Anchorage is about 40 plus miles. By road it is 173 miles of possible dangerous driving.
I honestly believe these ideas should be under consideration for safety and financial reasons for the Kenai Peninsula. I have no idea as to the cost of such a project, but it would save in many ways down the road.