Construction season under way on the Kenai Peninsula

Kenai Peninsula residents and visitors should plan a little more time behind the wheel to account for some road construction projects this year.

Drivers in Soldotna may have already noticed construction blocking off a section of Kobuk Street between Riverside Drive and Marcus Avenue, where crews are completing the second phase of a project to improve the street. The construction is a long-term project, scheduled to take place each year until 2020.

The road should be open by Friday, in time for the annual Progress Days festival, according to a notice on the city of Soldotna’s website.

“There are several utility repairs taking place right now as well as upgrading curb ramps for (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards,” the notice states. “After the repairs are competed the road will be milled and repaved.”

Those headed across the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge may run into a delay on the Sterling Highway as well between mileposts 58 and 79, the stretch roughly between Kenai Keys Road in Sterling and the Cooper Landing end of Skilak Lake Road. The project, coordinated by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, will resurface that stretch of road, widen the shoulders and add more wildlife-friendly infrastructure, including underpasses and some moose fencing.

The initial drafts of the project included long stretches of moose fencing, but because of concerns about other animals being able to cross, it has been reduced to about 2.3 miles on both sides of the highway across a flat area, said Shannon McCarthy, spokesperson for DOT’s Central Region.

“Biologists are a little concerned about other critters moving back and forth, and we felt like the natural drainage did funnel the moose into the moose crossing areas where we’re building underpasses,” she said. “… The 2.3 miles is a flat area where there’s no natural topography to guide them.”

The Sterling Highway project is a fairly major one, planned out over the coming three years, said project engineer Shaun Combs. Starting at the eastern end and working westward, the contractor will be mostly clearing along the roadway for the first year, conducting most of the work at night during the high-traffic season and transitioning to working during the days in the fall, he said.

“Sometime after Labor Day, we’ll switch onto days, when traffic lightens up quite a bit,” he said. “It kind of gets unsafe at night when you’re trying to work in the dark.”

There are a number of popular recreation spots along that section of road that will be impacted by the construction, including the Skyline Trailhead, where the project includes a plan to install a pedestrian walkway under the expanded highway. Currently, hikers have to park on the south side of the highway and cross the road, which has vey narrow shoulders, to reach the trailhead. Though the construction will likely impact the trailhead, it will remain open to use and parking, as will all the others in the area, during construction, Combs said.

“Any of the facilities out there for people wanting to go for hikes out there will be open,” he said.

Planned construction on Kalifornsky Beach Road, initially proposed for this summer, has gone out to bid and will likely be awarded later this summer, McCarthy said. If the bid is confirmed, there could be prep work late this summer, but it’s uncertain as yet, she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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