Highway widening document out soon
Road work through the critical habitat area of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve will be one area of scrutiny in the environmental assessment of the Haines Highway expansion project.
The environmental document for widening the road between the Haines airport and 25.3 Mile should be out this summer, said Reuben Yost, project manager at the state Department of Transportation.
The project will widen the roadway from 28 to 36 feet and resurface it. Construction of the section between 21 Mile and 25.3 Mile is set for 2013 and is expected to cost $33 million, including $11 million for replacement of Wells Bridge.
Design will start late this year and continue through 2012.
“We’ve worked with the eagle preserve (advisory) council to cut as few trees as possible and to shift the road as much as possible uphill” and away from the Chilkat River, Yost said.
Almost all the widening in the critical habitat area between 19 Mile and 23 Mile will be on the uphill side, with “very few trees” taken on the river side of the road, he said.
Plans are for maintaining the current speed limit but building the road to standards considered appropriate for driving at 55 mph, Yost said.
Falconer and wildlife photographer Mario Benassi said he’s concerned about the history of highways through such areas. “There are studies on areas where they’ve put highways through wildlife areas, and the impacts on birds, and it’s pretty damning. If we put a high-speed road through the eagle preserve, it’s not going to do the eagles any good.”
In Lake Pueblo, Colo ., a dam-created lake in the late 1970s swallowed up eagle perching trees, all but eliminating an eagle congregation there. “There used to be hundreds. All you can see now is two or three.”
Benassi said he’s also concerned about runoff from a wider road.
Yost said former plans to locate a new bridge 100 feet or more downriver of the current site have been scrapped due to habitat concerns. The new location is directly downriver of the existing bridge.
At 500 feet long, the bridge at Wells is one of the longes remaining steel bridges of its kind in Alaska and dates to 1958, Yost said. The bridge also will be at least four feet higher than the current one, to allow passage of airboats beneath it, he said.
The remainder of the project to the airport may be done in as many as three separate sections, Yost said.
There’s currently $26 million in place for the project, Yost said. The environmental document will encompass work to the airport, he said, and include costs, impacts and preliminary design.