AKDOT budget cuts limit winter road clearance

AKDOT budget cuts limit winter road clearance

Budget cuts statewide will limit the Alaska Department of Transportation’s ability to clear roads this winter.

Falling oil prices have forced the state legislature to trim more than $1 billion from its unrestricted general fund spending for FY 2016. That resulted in a 12.4 percent budget reduction for the DOT, forcing the agency to reduce its road clearance and maintenance services.

“Each winter ADOT&PF maximizes its resources to meet the provided operating budget,” according to a DOT press release. “This winter will be no different. However, the response frequency will be reduced, and response time to all routes may take longer depending on the severity of the winter storm.”

The agency does not maintain a number of roads during the winter, such as the Denali Highway and the Taylor Highway.

However, a new color-coded map issued Thursday shows that the department will add the Nome road system, the road to Yakutat and a part of the northern route between Palmer and Willow in the winter, among others, to its list of roadways that will not be maintained.

This is the first year the DOT has issued an interactive map detailing road priority, said Jill Reese, spokesperson for the DOT central region. Response times statewide will be longer, so the DOT issued the map with specific hour guidelines so the public will know what to expect, she said.

Although DOT employees are familiar with the priority system from the internal manuals, the map allows members of the public to zoom in on their streets and determine whether it is the state’s responsibility or the city or borough’s responsibility to clear the roads.

“It may be that some of the lower priority roads, we may not even get to them before the storm ends, depending on the severity of the storm,” Reese said.

“We have to be prepared for the worst and we want the communities to realize the impacts that lower oil prices are having our ability to maintain the roads to a level that has in previous years been enjoyed by our state.”

The road priority system is based on traffic volume, speed and connections to communities and roads, according to the DOT.

Most of the Kenai Peninsula’s state-owned roads will be cleared and maintained throughout the winter.

The section of the Sterling Highway that runs through Soldotna is designated as a Priority 1 road — it will always be cleared within 24 hours because it is a high-traffic vein for the area.

However, the Kenai Spur Highway, the Sterling highway between Soldotna and Homer, and the Sterling Highway from Soldotna to Portage are designated Priority 2, meaning they will be cleared within 36 hours after a winter storm. The other state-maintained roads on the peninsula will be cleared within 48 to 96 hours, according to the DOT.

The remainder of the maintained roads are in the cities’ and borough’s jurisdiction. Pat Malone, the road service area director for the borough, said the DOT’s budget cuts will not affect their service. However, they do not have the authority to increase service on the DOT-maintained roads, either.

“I think that impact (on us) would be fairly minimal,” Malone said. “We don’t have the authority to pick up maintenance on state-maintained roads.”

Reese said that although the DOT is preparing for the worst situation of winter storms, the agency hopes for a light winter and will use all the resource it can to make roads passable.

“We wanted to make the public aware of the times,” Reese said. “Because we expected to be slower in our response times, we wanted the public to be fully aware, so they simply have a clear expectation.”

The DOT’s winter road maintenance map can be viewed at bit.ly/AKDOT

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com

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