Residents weigh in on Sterling Highway safety corridor options

Area residents weighed in on a proposed alternative to a stretch of the Sterling Highway between Soldotna and Sterling during a Thursday open house.

The area between miles 94 and 82.5 of the Sterling Highway is designated as a highway safety corridor and has been identified as a hazardous driving area since the 1980s, said Consultant Team Project Manager Dennis Linnell. The Sterling Highway Safety Corridor Study project seeks to cut down on the number of accidents that occur along the stretch of road by constructing one of several alternative designs. Usually, the public ends up accepting the recommended alternative, he said.

“People understand that safety is the big problem on this corridor,” Linnell said. “And they understand that we’re trying to make it safer.”

Originally, Alaska began addressing the area’s issues “in house,” but has since deferred the project back to the federal level in the wake of its present financial situation, Linnell said. Now, the state will be responsible for only 10 percent of the project’s total cost.

At the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers on Thursday, residents who live along the corridor and in the area presented their comments and concerns about the alternative design recommended by the project’s team, which involves a widened four-lane highway with a grassy median in the center.

Some have expressed that they would prefer a five-lane stretch of highway with a center turning lane for better access to roads and businesses, said Project Manager Kelly Petersen of the Department of Transportation. However, studies have shown that grassy medians improve safety more effectively than center turn lanes, she said.

“I think most people would agree that the four lane divided (road) is safer than one with a center turn lane,” Linnell said. “It’s less convenient, it’s not as good of access for the business. However, in my experience … because the access is so much safer, they don’t see the drop in business that they think they’re going to.”

Others have expressed their wish to have more opportunities to turn around on the highway to get to their respective roads and driveways. The recommended plan provides for turnarounds about every half mile.

Cheryl Page and Febra Hensley both live around Mile 88 of the Sterling Highway and said they are concerned about having reasonable access to their homes. Under the recommended plan, the women said they will have to drive past where they would normally turn and take Robinson Loop Road to back track.

“I’m not too pleased with what they’re suggested, because right now, with the way that they have it drawn out, it eliminates our access into our road,” Hensley said. “So now we would have to continue further up the road to Robinson Loop and either make a u-turn with oncoming traffic coming from the other side, or actually divert us down Robinson Loop and through a couple of other subdivisions back around to our hose. So it’s really going to change the way that everyone goes home at night.”

Both women said, despite some issues with the alternative, that they support the effort to make the corridor safer. Page, who has lived in the Robinson Loop area since 1980, said there used to be a place nicknamed “dead man’s curve” due to the high number of fatal accidents that occurred there. It has since been taken out, but Page said continuing to improve safety is important.

“To save lives I think it’s wonderful. It’s moving forward,” Page said. “I think the safety aspect’s really awesome, but I don’t want to now make it hard for us to come in at night.”

It would be easier to make small adjustments or tweaks to the recommended alternative according to resident suggestions than to pick an entirely different one, Linnell said.

“The intersection openings, they’re not set in stone,” he said. “One of the things we have is half-mile spacing for those, so you’re never more than a half mile away from a turnaround point. There may be somewhere where there’s a better location than another that we could look at moving those based on the development.”

The preferred alternative includes a bike path, which Linnell said people have been in favor of so far. Residents have also expressed their wish for plenty of lighting in the area, he said.

“It’s great when they come here and write on our maps and say, ‘There’s a bunch of people that live here and need to get here,’” Petersen said. “That really helps. We do transportation planning and we do the traffic forecasting based on historical increases and, you know, sometimes, a lot of times, the local people have the expertise that we just can’t get anywhere else.”

The project’s next step will be to complete an environmental document. The next open house has not yet been scheduled, but there will be several more down the road, Linnell said. Construction is slated be begin in 2021.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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