Cooper Landing bypass route trades one set of impacts for another

  • Thursday, November 17, 2016 8:17pm
  • Opinion

With Alaska’s climate and geology, it’s hard enough to build a road. The Cooper Landing bypass project has even more to contend with — namely, a host of man-made obstacles that has planners leaning toward what has become the least popular option.

The Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board, which makes recommendations on Kenai River management issues, heard from the Alaska Department of Transportation about the project’s current direction. The preferred route, know as the G-South Alternative, has drawn criticism from a wide range of organizations across the Kenai Peninsula. That particular route would traverse the north side of the river, crossing to the south side via a new bridge and rejoining the current Sterling Highway.

The major criticism of the G-South Alternative is that is doesn’t move traffic away from the Kenai River — something many view as an essential part of any Cooper Landing bypass plan. After all, with heavy traffic comes the increased potential for pollution of the upper Kenai River, as well as the potential for contamination from a vehicle crash that causes a spill right next to the river.

However, the Alaska DOT and the Federal Highway Administration have determined the G-South Alternative to be the best option in that it addresses the goals of the project — reducing highway congestion, meeting current highway design standards, and improving highway safety — with the least impact to the human and natural environment in the area.

Many stakeholder groups are pointing to the Juneau Creek Alternative as a better route. That option would reroute the Sterling Highway up into the hills north of the river and would not require a new river crossing. The project engineer cited the Juneau Creek Alternative as a safer and better performing road.

But because of a wilderness designation, a conservation unit and national recreation area, the Juneau Creek Alternative would require an act of Congress — and even then it might not happen.

So the question is, do we go with the option that appears to have the best chance of actually getting done, or do we hold out for the option favored by many stakeholder groups on the Kenai Peninsula — and the act of Congress necessary to make it happen? Do potential impacts to the Kenai River outweigh impacts to designated wilderness, conservation and recreation areas?

If you want to weigh in on the question, public comment is still being taken. Find details on the proposed route, environmental impact statement reports, as well as a page of FAQs, at http://www.sterlinghighway.net. Project leaders can be emailed at sterlinghwy@hdrinc.com; however, it is important to note that at this point, they are looking for comments on specific items in the proposed routes, rather than general comments in favor of or opposed to an alternative.

Either way, the Cooper Landing bypass has been on the drawing board for nearly 40 years. We look forward to a final decision and design phase for a badly needed piece of infrastructure.

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