DOT launches differential speed section of Seward Highway

Starting Monday, the right lane on a section of the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Kenai will legally become the slow lane.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is launching a project to study how lowering the speed limit in the just right lane of a highway impacts congestion and facilitates passing on the left. The project will reduce the speed limit in the right lane on a section of the Seward Highway between the Hope Junction and the top of Turnagain Pass.

That way, drivers in the left lane can pass drivers in the right lane more easily, avoiding conflict when they are both going relatively fast and have to merge when the passing lane ends.

Starting Monday, the speed limit on the section of the Seward Highway from Mile 60–65 will be 55 in the right lane and 65 in the left lane.

“With a lower posted speed limit in the right (slow) lane, passing speeds can be reduced while allowing more vehicles to pass within designated passing lanes,” stated a DOT press release issued Friday.

The state intentionally designed the project for situations just such as the upcoming weekend — with the warm July weather, many tourists and an opening personal use dipnet fishery on the Kenai River, the traffic headed for the Kenai Peninsula will swell to peaks of 20,000 vehicles on some days in July. The Seward Highway is a known high-traffic area — the state has lengthened and added passing lanes from Anchorage south toward the Kenai Peninsula in recent years.

The project is targeted at both controlling congestion and improving safety, said Scott Thomas, the Central Region traffic engineer for DOT.

DOT has been working on the project for more than two years, which is primarily funded through the Federal Highway Administration, he said. DOT Planners met with the Alaska State Troopers and trucking associations, who regularly drive the highway to and from Anchorage, to work out how to solve the problem without impacting any one group too heavily, he said.

Starting a project on the road right away could have been expensive, though, so to save costs, the state went through a virtual driving simulator first. Thomas said the planners worked with programmers from the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, to design a simulation that mimics the conditions on the Turnagain Pass road.

“They can make it look like the passing lanes and put real drivers behind the wheel of a mini truck,” Thomas said. “It’s drivers of different ages, different skill levels.”

Currently, DOT plans to run the test throughout July, but has no plans to run into August. Thomas said the department will gather data about traffic speeds and the distance between cars throughout the month and analyze it. If it’s successful, the state may look at other areas to implement similar programs, he said.

Nothing will change for the troopers — they enforce the speed limits DOT sets, and their instruments will behave the same, said Megan Peters, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety.

“If we’re around, we do our best to contact (speeding drivers) and have them respond to our tickets that we give them,” Peters said. “It’s going to be no different.”

Much of the good behavior will rely on drivers in the first place, Thomas said.

Following the posted speed limits, allowing faster drivers to pass when going uphill and being cognizant of where other drivers are will help promote safety, he said. He illustrated a common situation: someone going slowly up a hill toward Kenai with a line of four or five vehicles behind them.

The simplest solution: just put on the turning signal and pull over into the slow lane.

“Then I’d let up on the gas, and then people start rolling by you, and you can tell they’re not very upset,” Thomas said. It takes a conscious decision to let up on the gas.”

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

More in News

Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

In this September 2017 file photo from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, beluga whales arch their backs through the surface of the water. Of Alaska’s five distinct beluga whale populations, only Cook Inlet’s is listed as endangered. (Courtesy the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Celebrate belugas with virtual programming next week

The three-day event will include conferences and activities

Capt. Corey Wheeler, front, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, walks away from a Chinook helicopter that landed on the glacier near Denali, April 24, 2016, on the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska. The U.S. Army helped set up base camp on North America’s tallest mountain. The U.S. Army is poised to revamp its forces in Alaska to better prepare for future cold-weather conflicts, and it is expected to replace the larger, heavily equipped Stryker Brigade there with a more mobile, infantry unit better suited for the frigid fight, according to Army leaders. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight

The U.S. has long viewed the Arctic as a growing area of competition with Russia and China

A man fishes in the Kenai River on July 16, 2018, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/file)
Emergency orders, fishing conditions updated

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish released a Northern Kenai fishing report Friday

My Alaskan Gifts is seen at the Kenai Municipal Airport on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Municipal Airport gets gift shop

Locally sourced Alaska products are the newest addition to the Kenai Municipal… Continue reading

FILE - A sign requiring masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus on a store front in Philadelphia, is seen Feb. 16, 2022. Philadelphia is reinstating its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s top health official, announced Monday, April 11, 2022. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
US marks 1 million COVID-19 deaths; 15 more reported in Alaska

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported 15 more COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read