- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - State transportation officials will collect public testimony through May 26 on proposals to move the Sterling Highway around Cooper Landing and away from the upper Kenai River, a popular sport-fishing destination that could be contaminated if an oil tank truck crashed.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities last month released draft environmental work with four alternatives to improve traffic flow on the 13-mile stretch of the highway that runs through the community, the Anchorage-based business weekly Alaska Journal of Commerce (https://bit.ly/1bRjOQj) reported.

Cooper Landing draws thousands of anglers and other visitors each year. Drivers have to pass through the community to reach Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and other Kenai Peninsula communities.

The highway through Cooper Landing remains in its original right of way from construction in 1950 and does not meet Department of Transportation safety standards for a main thoroughfare. However, despite curves and close proximity to mountains and the Kenai River, the stretch proposed for bypass has a crash rate 4.6 percent lower than the state average for similarly classified rural primary highways.

The cost for a bypass ranges from $250 million to $304 million. Federal highway funds would pay for most of the project.

Engineering and consulting firm HDR Inc. prepared the environmental-impact statement. Three alternatives would deviate from the current highway near Mile 46, a couple miles east of the Kenai Lake Bridge, and move the highway north of Cooper Landing and the Kenai River.

One option would require a new bridge over the Kenai River between miles 51 and 52 and would follow the current right of way through the rest of the corridor.

A decision could be issued next year. Construction would take five years, beginning in 2018, under a current project timeline.

Cooper Landing Chamber of Commerce President Stephanie Ferry said the project has been discussed for years, and residents are skeptical it will get built.

Business owner Cheryle James said a bypass would hurt her general store. Construction funds would be better used on road work elsewhere in the state, she said. Improving the current road and expanding 35 mph speed zones is a better alternative, she said.

“Traffic is only busy here two or three months of the year,” she said.

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Online:

Transportation Department Sterling Highway bypass page: https://bit.ly/1bRysqU

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Information from: (Anchorage) Alaska Journal of Commerce, https://www.alaskajournal.com


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