Recent closures on the Sterling Highway due to fire activity have left road crews scrambling to finish a major construction project before winter.
This summer, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Granite Construction have been working to improve road conditions on the Sterling Highway from Mile 58 to Mile 79, between Sterling and Cooper Landing.
The Swan Lake Fire — which has been burning in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge between Sterling and Cooper Landing since June 5 — crossed the highway on Aug. 18 and prompted public safety officials to halt construction and close the road to traffic. Throughout the week of Aug. 18, the road was closed intermittently as fire crews worked to mitigate fire danger and heavy smoke conditions severely limited visibility at times.
Eventually, traffic resumed on the highway with pilot cars guiding motorists, and by the morning of Sept. 3 construction crews were back to work.
DOT Project Engineer Shaun Combs said on Thursday that fire activity did delay progress on the project, but the estimated completion date — June 15 of next year — remains the same. The work wasn’t completely halted, and crews were able to make some progress on installing new signage and wildlife fencing from Mile 72 to Mile 79 when fire activity permitted.
Now that construction crews are back on the road, Combs said the main goal is to finish paving the top and bottom layers of asphalt before winter. Progress will be entirely dependent on weather conditions for the month of September, and Combs said that the current drought conditions could give crews the extra few weeks needed to make up for lost time.
“We essentially lost two weeks of prime paving weather,” Combs said. “So now we’re focused on putting the final icing on the cake, with the goal of having the traveling public on that top asphalt surface by winter.”
After the fire moved through the area, trees along the roadway had their root systems burnt out and were left susceptible to falling over in windy conditions. Combs said that crews are aware of the dangers of falling trees and are equipped with chain saws to mitigate any dangers in the area. Protective rollover bars are installed on all the vehicles and heavy machinery to further ensure the crew members’ safety.
Combs expects paving crews to begin work at Mile 58 on Tuesday, barring any significant rain.
Motorists should be aware of crews and firefighters working day and night, and pilot cars will be in use during paving operations.
Further down the Sterling Highway, DOT crews are finishing up work between Mile 97 and Mile 118 between Soldotna and Clam Gulch. Installation of four large-diameter culverts at Slikok Tributary, Crooked Creek, Clam Gulch and Coal Creek has been completed. The Sterling Highway is open to all traffic at the Crooked Creek detour.
Motorists should be aware of possible delays when seeding trucks are on the roadway, and a high number of moose have been sighted along the project corridor.
Crews are working day and night on this project, which is scheduled to be completed in October of this year.
Beaver Loop Road will be closed from Bridge Access Road to Barbara Drive starting Monday, Sept. 16 and ending Sunday, Sept. 29. Local access will be maintained in the area, but no through traffic will be allowed.
DOT is working with QAP to resurface the entirety of Beaver Loop Road and construct additional turn lanes, as well as a pedestrian pathway.
Through late September, crews will be building the pedestrian path, replacing pipes and rebuilding the section of Beaver Loop Road between Bridge Access Road and Barbara Drive. Construction on this project is expected to last through the end of the season.
On the Kenai Spur Highway, DOT is working with Wolverine Construction to expand the highway to five lanes from Mile 5 to Mile 8 between Sports Lake Road and Swire Road.
Crews are working on and off the roadway in this area from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. An alternate traffic pattern is in place and drivers should use caution and reduce speed when traveling through the area. Drivers should also be aware of potential pilot car operations and follow posted detours for side road closures.
The Kenai Spur Highway construction is expected to last through the season.
Visit 511.alaska.gov for the latest traffic information and visit alaskanavigator.org for the latest construction updates.