Gov. Dunleavy’s budget calls for widening the Seward Highway

Published: Dec. 21, 2021 at 5:23 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tucked away in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget is a plan to widen the Seward Highway between Potter Marsh and Bird Creek along the Turnagain Arm. The area is already considered a “safety zone” where speed limits are lower and traffic fines are increased.

Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said in recent years that section of the highway has seen a drop in serious injury crashes but an increase in fatalities.

“By about 22-23%, right around there,” McCarthy said. “And it’s not just a summer problem, we’re having a winter problem too. So we are actually having lots of serious injury crashes in the winter.”

Dunleavy has instructed the department to find solutions with the ultimate goal of making a four-lane divided highway between Potter Marsh and Bird. It’s something many locals could get behind.

Ashton Hurlburt drives the Seward regularly, stopping to get time lapses of the moving tides in Turnagain Arm.

“I know it’s one of the more dangerous roads in the nation, but it still offers probably some of the most beautiful views around,” Hurlburt said.

Even so, he sees room for improvement.

“Yeah, absolutely. I think having a wider road here with more room for everybody to get by — I think bigger is usually better,” Hurlburt said.

The administration has the will to make the road safer, but adding lanes won’t be easy. McCarthy listed some of the challenges, including the fact that there are rocky cliffs on one side, and water on the other, with railroad tracks in between. In addition, any construction must take into account Cook Inlet Beluga whales, which are considered an endangered species.

“Each of these are challenges that we are going to have to address,” she said, adding, ”... Each section of the highway may have a different solution.”

The department is working to fast track the project, but McCarthy said it could take several years for construction to get underway. She said the project would be funded primarily by federal transportation dollars with a 90-10% split with the state.

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