Trees surround broken pavement on Funny River Road on Friday, May 5, 2023, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo via Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

Trees surround broken pavement on Funny River Road on Friday, May 5, 2023, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo via Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

Funny River Road reopens after washout

A chunk of the road collapsed at Mile 8

Funny River Road reopened Sunday morning to one-lane traffic following a partial collapse of the road on Friday that temporarily severed access to the area. A chunk of the road collapsed at Mile 8, about a mile southeast as the crow flies from the Keystone Boat Launch on the other side of the Kenai River, after the land underneath the road was washed out.

Because Funny River Road is owned by the State of Alaska and not the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities responded to the scene and have been conducting repair work.

Justin Shelby, an administrative operations manager with the Alaska Department of Transportation, said Monday that the crumbling of the road was caused by the failure of a culvert about 35 feet below Funny River Road that caused the underlying ground to washout.

“It was very old,” Shelby said of the culvert that failed.

The failure coincided with the beginning of work by the department on a separate initiative to resurface Funny River Road and replace the aging culverts. The State of Alaska put that project out to bid earlier this year, and Shelby said work began Monday.

“The timing of this was a little bit unfortunate,” he said of the washout.

Response work conducted by the department including completely digging up the existing culvert, which Shelby said was located about 35 feet under the ground. In all, Funny River Road was closed for 37 hours while state crews responded and the narrowness of the road at Mile 8, Shelby said, limited what type of equipment could be used.

For now, Shelby said the current conditions of the rebuilt road at Mile 8 will stay the same. State crews in the next few days will work to remove the pieces of culvert that were dug up from the road.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Manager Brenda Ahlberg said Monday that most of the borough’s response to the Friday washout has been related to communicating closures of the road to local residents. Ahlberg said the borough sent reverse 9-1-1 calls to residents in the area and even announced planned road closures at the Soldotna Sport, Rec & Trade Show, which was being held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Ahlberg said the borough propped up a call center to field inquiries from residents in the area about Funny River Road and assisted two families with finding housing while the road was closed. That housing was made available through partnerships between the borough, Love INC and the Red Cross, Ahlberg said.

The borough’s ability to communicate updates to residents, she added, was aided by a joint information system the borough has with the state of Alaska. Ahlberg said the Kenai Peninsula Borough is the only borough in Alaska to have a joint information system, which was created in 2017, and that it “absolutely” aided response to Friday’s washout

The borough also temporarily doubled staff at Central Emergency Services’ Funny River Station, where crews were prepared to coordinate medical airlifts, if needed, for residents on the northern side of the washout.

Multiple people commented on road updates shared by the state and borough that a bridge over the Kenai River between Funny River and Sterling would have allowed residents to leave the area.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough in 1984 passed a resolution supporting a state bill that would have approved money for construction of such a bridge. Separate legislation passed in 1998 legislation asked that the state build the bridge.

Borough voters in 2005 soundly defeated both elements of a ballot proposition that, first, would have advised the state to build what was called the “Funny River Bridge” and, second, whether the borough should contribute money to that project.

Updates on the status of Funny River Road are being shared on social media by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and on 511.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Pieces of culvert are piled near a now-open Funny River Road on Sunday, May 7, 2023, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo via Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

Pieces of culvert are piled near a now-open Funny River Road on Sunday, May 7, 2023, near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo via Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)

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