December 22, 2011 |

DOT lays out road, sidewalk upgrades

State transportation officials laid out plans for improvements to roads and sidewalks along main corridors used by cruise ship passengers at a meeting with Haines Borough officials Monday.

Pat Carroll and Keith Karpstein of the state Department of Transportation updated residents on planned Beach Road and Front Street improvements and Old Haines Highway sidewalk construction. Carroll said the projects would cost an estimated $4 million, paid for with cruise head tax money.

The work is to include new pavement on Beach Road and Front Street, from the Portage Cove campground to a Beach Road Y-shaped intersection, which will be realigned to create a T-shaped, four-way intersection with Mud Bay Road.

Karpstein said that would "create more of a controlled intersection and a better line of sight."

New sidewalk on Beach Road will run from the intersection back to Soap Suds Alley on the uphill side, and paving will continue to Main Street, with "quite a bit" of sidewalk there also to be replaced, Karpstein said.

He said construction should have little impact on parking at the Small Boat Harbor.

"Obviously, when we construct this intersection we’re going to have to cut off access, at some point, to this whole portion of the road," Karpstein said. "There is a potential that we might do just half at a time."

Also, Beach Road will be widened from Soap Suds Alley to the Portage Cove campground, so the pavement section will have a five-foot paved shoulder and a two-foot unpaved shoulder, Karpstein said.

"Mainly, that is to help with foot traffic during tourist season," he said.

Old Haines Highway sidewalk construction will add sidewalks, curb and gutter from Front Street to Third Avenue.

"It’s a separate project, but we are going to advertise and construct these together," Karpstein said. "… Through that (existing) section, we’re going to be doing sidewalk repairs as needed, so the majority of the new (sidewalk) construction is going to be on the (north) side of the road."

Some officials voiced concern about road construction preventing tourists from finding their way downtown.

"We want to keep them on Main Street to be in the stores, shopping, and if there’s any sort of obstacle to people walking to Main Street, they’ll turn around," said planning commissioner Rob Goldberg.

Goldberg referred to a 2001 Haines waterfront plan that called for a continuous sidewalk from the Portage Cove campground to Picture Point, and said he was concerned about losing current sidewalk at the intersection.

Goldberg said a borough sign committee recently discussed "how difficult it is for people to get from the cruise ship to Main Street." He said the elevated intersection would pose another obstacle.

Public facilities director Brian Lemcke said he would like the Beach Road and Front Street improvements to create six to 10 public parking spaces at a section of road abandoned at the new intersection.

"We just built a big parking lot out of that cruise ship dock," said state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines. "Why don’t you just let them park there? I know that some people really think it belongs to them, but they can give them their three bus stops and then let the people park there."

Tourism director Tanya Carlson said the lot has capacity issues, even on days with no cruise ship at port.

"We have all those day boats that come over," Carlson said. "Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are really big days, and when they’re needing it, it’s completely full."

Carlson said the road construction scheduled to run throughout the summer would be "a little bit of a nuisance." She said many tourists last summer took pictures of progress on the new parking lot at the dock and were complimentary about the project.

Residents have requested the Old Haines Highway sidewalk to be extended to the Haines School, but Rep. Thomas noted, "The school is not a tourism project."

Debra Schnabel of the Haines Borough Assembly said she thinks that area could be eligible for head tax money as "a tourist sidewalk."

"It’s fun to talk about if money is left over, and if it is, a change of perspective – I know we’re looking for (federal) Safe Routes to School money for the continuation of the sidewalk from Third to the school, but you can make just as strong of an argument that cruise ship passengers are walking to Dalton City, also," Schnabel said.

Karpstein said any additional sidewalk work likely would have to wait until 2013.