Helicopters are flying this fall and winter over Kupreanof Island in central Southeast Alaska near Petersburg as the state surveys a remote road construction project. The Alaska Department of Transportation hopes to start construction on it next year.
The work would extend forest roads across the northern part of the island. It’s called the Kake Access Road project. The DOT plans to build thirteen and a half miles of new single-lane road connecting existing forest roads. Also in the plans is a new boat launch ramp south of Twelve Mile Creek on the eastern side of the island. Like the name says, from there it’s a 12 mile boat ride on Frederick Sound along the Kupreanof shoreline to Petersburg.
“We’ve got a survey team out there and also a geotech team out there that are doing some topography work, the surveyors are doing some topography work there to try to, we’ve got a few bridge crossings that we’re going to have to design,” said Greg Lockwood, the DOT’s group chief for the project. “And so we’re trying to get some good topography on that and then also we got a geotech crew evaluating the whole road corridor and looking for material sites and figuring out how soft the ground is in place and things like that.”
The stated purpose for spending millions of dollars on the remote road is to provide increased recreational and subsistence opportunities on the island.
“This road is just for forest access,” Lockwood said.
The state this year also started building a similar road for around 32 million dollars north of Sitka. The DOT plans to start construction on the Kake road in 2020.
In 2012 Sitka Republican senator Bert Stedman secured 40 million dollars in state funding for this project. The legislative appropriation prompted a study for improving transportation access to Kake, done by state planners and the Federal Highway Administration. At one time planners were considering a road and ferry connection between the communities but nixed the idea because it would add significantly to DOT’s annual maintenance and operating expenses. The project was put on hold during the Walker administration pending a plan to balance the state’s budget.
Residents and elected officials in Petersburg have questioned why the state is spending this money on a remote road and have even wondered about spending the money on other projects. Stedman thinks the road could be useful for law enforcement and emergency response to Kake, while also helping the economy in that community.
The DOT’s Lockwood said helicopters will continue flying crews to do surveying work and other investigations into the winter. The route isn’t completely finalized yet but the state has posted an image on its website showing where new roads, bridge crossings and the boat ramp are planned.
“It’s not a done deal but that’s you know we’re keeping people updated with the best info we have and it’s definitely a lot better than anything that we previously had,” Lockwood said. “We’re probably at like a 35 percent design right now, is what we’re estimating.”
Permitting work and environmental review will continue into 2020. The DOT doesn’t have any public meetings planned on the project but will be updating the state’s website.