It’s a good thing when a project can kill two birds with one stone — or as is the case with planned improvements to the Sterling Highway between Soldotna and Clam Gulch, make the road safer for motorists while enhancing fish passage on the streams it crosses.
The plan from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is to widen the existing shoulders from 4 to 8 feet, add rumble strips and reflective striping, and install a safety edge, among other improvements.
Where the highway crosses salmon streams, including a tributary of Slikok Creek, Coal Creek, Crooked Creek, and an unmanned creek near Clam Gulch, existing culverts will be replaced with larger structures that will better allow juvenile salmon access to areas upstream of the road crossing.
In fact, fish passage had been identified as a significant issue on the Kenai Peninsula years ago — in a 2001 survey of culverts at road-stream, researchers found that 78 percent of the culverts on the peninsula were not adequate for fish passage.
Since then, an effort, spearheaded by the Kenai Watershed Forum, has been under way to upgrade inadequate culverts. Many have been replaced; others have been altered to slow the current passing through.
Planning road crossings that account for fish passage is now as much a part of road design as planning safe intersections.
Improvements to the Sterling Highway also are long overdue; if you’ve had the opportunity to drive on highways in other parts of the state that have undergone similar improvements, you know how much of a difference they make. Between 2006 and 2010, that stretch of road saw 266 traffic accidents; 93 of them, or 35 percent, could have been less severe or avoided altogether had the proposed improvements been in place.
Construction is planned for the summer of 2018, and we know to expect a long, slow drive for anyone who will be headed that direction, with likely detours around Kalifornsky Beach Road (which, by the way, will be seeing some improvements this summer, including traffic lights to be installed at the Gas Well and Ciechanski intersections; find details here: http://www.kbeachrd.com/).
While there will be some short-term inconvenience, we look forward to the long-term benefits, including a safer road and better salmon habitat, both of which are a boon for the Kenai Peninsula.