The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is moving forward with plans to widen and resurface Kenai’s Beaver Loop Road.
The plans would also add an 8-foot pedestrian pathway on the south side of the road and right turn pockets at Beaver Loop’s intersections with Bridge Access Road and the Kenai Spur Highway, where several accidents have occurred.
The project’s current cost estimate is between $10 million and $20 million, according to DOT spokesperson Shannon McCarthy. About 90 percent would be provided by the Federal Highway Administration, the remainder by DOT.
DOT stated in a permit application that Beaver Loop “currently exhibits potholes, cracking and wheel path rutting.” The winding 4-mile road curves through an area of semi-rural residences within Kenai’s city boundaries. After the renovation DOT plans to turn the road over to Kenai’s city government.
“I expect that we’ll see some work this summer, but because it’s a rehabilitation job, we’ll most likely see a good chunk of the construction in 2019 as well,” McCarthy said. “We don’t have a schedule yet because we don’t have a contractor on board.”
The contractor will determine how traffic will be managed during construction, though DOT’s permit applications state “it is likely that the project will require the temporary shutdown of approximately half of Beaver Loop Road in the areas of construction, with travel reduced to one lane of traffic at times.”
More than 50 Beaver Loop residents attended an open house about the Beaver Loop rennovations in 2014, according to previous Clarion reporting. In more recent public discussions of the project — at the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Feb. 14 and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 12 — some Beaver Loop residents said that after that open house and another in 2015, their concerns about the project had been ignored.
“I’m kind of worried that DOT is treating this project like a Sterling Highway road project,” Beaver Loop resident Laura Sievert told the Kenai commissioners, referring to DOT’s extensive recent tree clearing along that highway. “Obviously Beaver Loop is not a Sterling Highway. A lot of the older houses are really close to the road — they were built before the road was even what it is now.”
Another Beaver Loop resident, Kurt Wilcox, said the removal of trees in certain places would increase winter drifting, creating “a maintenance nightmare” for Kenai after the city inherits the road. Beaver Loop resident Chris Garcia said DOT should resurface the road but not widen it.
“What it is, is they’re going to turn Beaver Loop road into a speedway, and we’re not only going to have accidents, we’re going to have deaths on it,” Garcia said. “People already drive faster than they should on it, and it’s a rough, nasty road. All I can see is by making it wider and smoother, they’re just going to drive faster.”
At the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission’s Feb. 14 meeting, commissioners Joe Halstead and Gary Greenburg said they favored additional public meetings with DOT.
McCarthy said DOT plans to have a public “construction kick-off meeting” prior to starting work. That meeting “might occur this fall, or it could occur this spring,” she said. The contractor would co-host the meeting and talk about plans for managing traffic during construction.
DOT documents presented in 2013 identified 110 properties adjacent to the project’s construction corridor. McCarthy said current plans put five properties within the Beaver Loop’s expanded right of way, though the right-of-way isn’t yet complete.
“We did that by just trimming the shoulders a bit and bringing the bike trail closer,” McCarthy said. “That’s part of the reason they’re able to avoid the more extensive purchases.”
Anadromous habitat and fish passage
Plans to widen the road call for excavating about 1,300 cubic yards of wetland material and replacing it with permanent fill, requiring a permit from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers. Because the improvements would affect four streams, including two anadromous streams that will get excavation and fill placement, permits from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s planning commission were also required under borough rules for construction within 50 feet of anadromous streams.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission unanimously approved a permit for the work on Feb. 12, with 17 conditions, including a requirement that DOT plant two native trees within the 50-foot anadromous protection area for every one it removes.
DOT’s plans also call for culvert replacements.
“Several drainage and in-stream culverts are reaching the end of their useful life and demonstrate rusting, and damaged inlets and outlets,” a DOT permit application states. “Roadside ditches, where present, are overgrown with vegetation or filled with debris.”
Many existing culverts were not designed for fish passage, and will be replaced with ones that are. In some instances, this will mean doubling their width — four existing 4 foot-diameter culverts will be replaced with arches up to 8 feet wide.
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.