For the past three weeks, Kenai residents Andrew and Sara Smith have had to drive 30 miles out of their way every day to get to work in Soldotna.
Sara Smith, who works at Lucky Raven Tobacco on the Kenai Spur Highway, lives half a mile down Beaver Loop Road from the Spur Highway intersection. But a road closure to replace a culvert between her house and the intersection has forced her to drive to the other end of Beaver Loop Road to Bridge Access Road and through Kenai instead. To make matters more complicated, their mailbox is on the other side of the construction site.
“I haven’t checked my mail in a week because I don’t have the extra gas to go all the way around and back after work at midnight,” she said. “It has been nothing but a pain in the butt.”
The road closure is for a Kenai Watershed Forum project to replace a culvert to improve fish passage for tributaries to the Kenai River beneath Beaver Loop Road. Robert Ruffner, executive director of the watershed forum, said the old culverts were structurally deficient and prevented juvenile fish from accessing habitat.
Residents of Beaver Loop Road that have been cut off from access to the Spur Highway will have to wait longer before the road opens. The project, which was originally expected to be completed June 11, has been delayed another three weeks, because of complications with high levels of groundwater, Ruffner said.
The contractor, Endries Company from Soldotna, requested an extension from the Department of Transportation, which will complete the road after the culvert and water and sewer lines under the road have been completed, Ruffner said.
“The project is a little behind schedule,” Ruffner said. “The contractor had some challenges with water and sewer mains that they were installing and the amount of groundwater. The recent rain hasn’t helped much either.”
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said the city expects the road to be open in time for the personal-use dipnet fishery, which opens July 10.
Pete Endries, the general contractor, said it’s inconvenient but his crew is working diligently to finish the job. He said he didn’t like that the reader board on the Spur Highway said the road would be open June 11.
“I don’t like to a have a timeline set because people get upset when projects don’t get completed in time,” Endries said. “The groundwater and weather has made a mess of things and my guys are working hard to finish.”
On Monday a crew of six used heavy equipment and pumps to remove groundwater, while half of the new culvert was in place. Endries said his team was waiting on some heavy equipment to arrive, which slowed down their progress.
Elaina Sedivy, who lives next door to the Smiths, said the road closure has affected her, but the crew has done what they can for the locals. Sedivy said she works at Soldotna Kids Early Learning Center on the Spur Highway and has to open the daycare at 6 a.m. To save her commute time she parks on the other side of the construction and walks around the hole in the road.
Andrew Smith said the delay is frustrating. He only has one car and has had to take his wife to work before he goes to work. His babysitter lives in Sterling and has to drive the long way to get to their house.
Andrew Smith said he is concerned the project will not be completed in time for the start of dipnet season, which would greatly impact Beaver Loop Road residents who could only use Bridge Access Road.
“They need to get this road open,” he said. “Nobody will be able to get out. There are going to be a lot of accidents. It’s going to shut down this whole area.”