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Story Last modified at 10:07 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bumpy road ahead
Eagle River Road upgrades delayed until at least 2013

For the Star


Upgrades to Eagle River Road, originally anticipated for this year, are now being bumped back another two years, according to the state.
Photo by Dan Shepard

Construction on Eagle River Road, delayed due to right-of-way issues, is now slated for 2013.

The project has been in the works since the 1980s, said Dale Bingham, former chief ranger for Chugach State Park. Bingham has lived in Eagle River since 1976 and worked on the project in its early days. He said the road improvements are badly needed.

"The road has never really been upgraded," Bingham said.

Department of Transportation project manager Jim Amundsen said the $30 million road project, which runs from Mile 5.3, at Terrace Street, to Eagle River Nature Center at Mile 12.6, will rebuild and widen the road surface and straighten curves.

"There are a number of vertical and horizontal curves in the project. Just about every one of them has an accident history tied to it," Amundsen said.

The project has a history of bad timing. Bingham said he started working on a school bus turnaround back in the early 1980s, not long after the bar at the end of the road – then known as Paradise Haven Lodge – was turned into a state parks visitor center. Today, it is the nonprofit Eagle River Nature Center.

Bingham helped get the road paved, then worked with former Eagle River representative Randy Phillips to try to get a full upgrade built, with two lanes and a center turning lane, plus separated paths for motorized and nonmotorized users.

"It was pretty significant," Bingham said of the cost.

But in the 1990s the state changed how it funded road projects, he said. Money that looked like it could be spent on the Eagle River Road project went elsewhere, and the project slipped down the priority list.

"They were trying to get it back (to the top) for the next 12 years," Bingham said. He had since been transferred to oversee state parks in the Mat-Su and Copper Valley and was no longer closely involved in the project.

In 2009 it looked like the project was going to get a break. Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, or AMATS, ranked the project fairly high on its priority list. But a change at the Assembly table moved a Huffman Road project ahead of Eagle River Road in the priority list. The move pushed construction back from 2011 to 2012, Assemblyman Bill Starr said at the time.

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Amundsen said the slow process of buying right-of-way has also brought delays. He said the state is negotiating with two primary landholders, the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and Eklutna Inc., and should have the land it needs to expand the road by the end of the year.

The project needs 10.2 acres of state park land, most of it shaved off either side of the existing road corridor, to straighten corners and curves. Although the loss of that land won't compromise existing trails or park use, park managers want to be sure the park doesn't just lose the land.

Mike Seidl, design and construction section chief of the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, said his section is looking for a suitable replacement for that land.

"If they take 10 acres, they have to get that evaluated for recreational use," Seidl said. "They have to purchase land for us that has the same recreational value."

That's where the negotiations are now, Seidl said.

When land negotiations are finished, Amundsen said the project design would be finalized, another public meeting will be held and a construction bid will be readied.

"By this time next year we'll know how close we are to having the right-of-way we need," Amundsen said.

Amundsen said residents interested in the road project can expect a project update at a public meeting late this year or early next year.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 16, 2011.