July 5, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 26

Partial curb repair may be norm

Construction of new sidewalk along Old Haines Highway will include replacing only sections of deteriorating sidewalk on the road’s opposite side, state officials said this week.

Property owners along the stretch questioned partial replacement of the existing sidewalk that is deteriorated in places, with chunks missing.

“If they’re going to do construction, they should do (the whole job),” said Cheryl McRoberts of the American Bald Eagle Foundation.

McRoberts cited similar plans by state Department of Transportation officials for partial replacement of Main Street curb and sidewalks last year, a project the agency expanded to replace adjoining walks after a public outcry.

DOT officials this week said sidewalk plans for the Old Haines Highway aren’t likely to change for reasons including differences in how the two projects were funded.

Regional preconstruction engineer Chuck Correa said federal highway money paid for last year’s Main Street job, while sidewalk construction between Front Street and Third Avenue is funded by cruise ship head tax revenues, money DOT hasn’t received for several years.

To build sidewalks around the “Y”-shaped intersection it’s reshaping at Front Street and Beach Road, DOT needed additional funds it borrowed from other projects in the region, as funding was limited to pavement rehabilitation, Correa said.

“We robbed a couple other projects to have what we have now. The question is, can we rob a couple more projects for that extra work? The answer is, we’ve exhausted money from that year’s appropriation,” he said.

A connecting section of sidewalk on the highway’s north side from Third Avenue to East Fair Drive past the entrance to Haines School is being funded by federal Safe Routes to School funds, Correa said.

Correa and Southeast DOT director Al Clough said a federal highway bill Congress passed last year will mean even less money for work on state-maintained roads like Main Street and Old Haines Highway.

Besides a reduction in total funding of 15 percent, the bill limits federal spending to federal roads, Clough said. “We lost flexibility in where we could put money in the state. In the past, we could mix and match funding, depending on our needs. The new bill specifically dictates that the majority of the money go to federal highway system mileage.”

“In the past, Alaska received a good deal of deference due to the good work of former Senator Stevens. The bottom line is less money is available statewide for this class of road project,” Clough said.

Clough also said it’s not uncommon for the state to repair only sections of roads and sidewalks.

Correa said the new highway bill isn’t all bad for Haines, as the law may bring more funding for work on the Haines Highway, which is a federal highway.