Bypass Project in Cooper Landing is Closer to Reality

Shaylon Cochran

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     The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly got an update on a long-awaited expansion project on the Sterling Highway at its meeting this week. The Cooper Landing Bypass has been in the planning stages for years, but some real first steps are scheduled to take place in 2013.

     The 15 miles of Sterling Highway around Cooper Landing look much the way they did in the 40’s when a road first came through. Narrow, winding, blind corners. Overall, just a real cramped and dangerous stretch of road that hugs the banks of the Kenai River. Plans for a by-pass through the area have been swirling for years, but the first official steps toward a major expansion project are finally going forward this year.

     Addressing the Borough Assembly at its meeting Tuesday, Department of Transportation consultant John McPherson explained the purpose for the by-pass is to upgrade the Sterling Highway between mile markers 45 and 60 to modern standards.

     This project has been kicked around for more than 30 years and, according to the DOT’s projected timeline still won’t be completed until 2020.

     Currently, there are four plans up for consideration. They range from $225 million to $270 million dollars and would each see a new path further away from the Kenai River, anywhere from four to nine miles, depending on the plan. And all four proposals share two common features; a new bridge over Juneau Creek north of Cooper Landing and a projected decrease in accidents of 65%.

     In order to receive federal funding for the project, engineers and developers are currently putting together a draft environmental impact statement which will be finished this year before being held for agency reviews and public hearings in 2014.

     Over the past six months, McPherson says, plans have grown to include one more alternative route and figure out control over access to any new portions of the road.

     “Controlling access is really a part of remedying the kinds of problems that we see on the existing Sterling Highway,” McPherson said.

     “The driveways and the side streets and all those conflict points on the new alignment we would be controlling, so that hopefully the proliferation of driveways and side streets don’t grow over time and create a similar problem as we have today,” he said.

     Having tight control over access points through the 15-mile stretch will function essentially like zoning laws; limiting where points of access can be constructed and by whom, which means bridges and over passes will be constructed to access Borough areas.

     The environmental impact study will be finished this year before the plan goes before the public for review. Then the Federal Highway Administration will have final say on the route and the entire project depends, of course, on whether funding from the state or the federal government will be made available.

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