'The failure is catastrophic' -- KGB commuters on road construction progress
One of Alaska's most dangerous highway corridors is on the road to repair -- but residents along Knik Goose Bay Road are asking the state to hurry the project along.
Karen Arndt lost her husband to a head-on collision on KGB on the evening of Dec. 9. She stood in front of a crowded room at a town hall meeting Saturday to talk about the KGB construction project.
"Given the sheer volume of drivers along this narrow, rutted and dark, curvy road … we lose life after life and it has to stop," Arndt said.
Arndt asked her state's leaders to expedite construction on the dangerous 8-mile stretch of KGB. It’s one of four roadways designated as a safety corridor in Alaska, claiming 16 lives in the last five years. The most recent fatality was William, or Bill Arndt.
"Our state and our federal government has a responsibility to us for public safety,” Arndt said through choked tears. “When it comes to keeping the residents who live up this road safe … the failure is catastrophic."
Several area residents and KGB commuters testified Saturday -- people directly impacted by KGB traffic.
"We are done with it," one woman said.
Cries for help heard by Governor Dunleavy, who made a point of appearing at Saturday’s meeting.
"This is not just a road to repair. As was mentioned, regrettably, it's a life safety issue for the people that live here,” Dunleavy said. “And even though the state does not have quote 'a lot of money,' it's for these purposes that the state exists."
According to the Department of Transportation, the federal government gives Alaska $500 million per year for priority road projects -- money graciously accepted amidst a budget deficit. But using federal dollars brings its own hurdles.
"We have this anecdotal comment that when it comes to spending money on construction projects … if it's a state dollar, it's worth about $.95. If it's a federal dollar it's worth about $.70, because of all the process and all the steps we have to go through," DOT Commissioner John MacKinnon said.
DOT plans to convert the 8-mile stretch of highway from two to four lanes, divided by a depressed median; two lanes of traffic going into Wasilla, and two lanes going to Settler's Bay.
Phase One construction, from Centaur Ave. to Fairview Loop, is slated for 2021. Phase two construction, from Fairview Loop to Settler's Bay Dr., is slated for 2023.
KGB Project Manager Tom Schmidt says his team is looking for every opportunity to accelerate construction. DOT is working with the legislature and the governor to find funding for temporary safety repairs like fixing ruts in the narrow road, adding more reflectors, and more lighting.
But those who have lost loved ones hope change comes before more tragedy.
"Anything less than immediate response is unacceptable," Arndt said.
DOT is currently working with utility companies, which will have to relocate facilities to accommodate the highway expansion.
for more information on the KGB construction project.