KNIK – Elected officials from all levels of government assembled at Station 6-2 on Knik-Goose Bay Road to hold a town hall meeting addressing the KGB expansion. Representative Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Mark Neuman, Cathy Tilton, Senator David Wilson, Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon and Governor Mike Dunleavy attended to answer questions from residents who rely on KGB and those who have lost loved ones to accidents on the road attributed to reckless driving and poor design.
“This was designated by myself as the most important road to do work on when I came into office,” said Dunleavy. “We’re the fastest growing section in the state and this is ground-zero for it right here on this road.”
Back in 2009, KGB was designated as a Traffic Safety Corridor due to the many deaths and accidents. According to the DOT, KGB has a fatal accident rate nearly four times greater than the national average.
Karen Arndt gave a powerful testimony about the loss of her husband Bill who passed away in a collision earlier this month. Bill worked for the state for more than twenty years.
“Our state and federal government has a responsibility to us for public safety,” Arndt said. “How much more do we need to lose before we move up our timeline. Does it have to be a school bus full of our kids?”
Dunleavy highlighted the fact that four schools are on roads that branch off of KGB.
Many drivers elect to use Vine Road or the Parks Highway as alternative routes. Some stated they are apprehensive to let their children drive the road because of the many accidents.
The project to expand KGB into a four-lane road will be split into two phases. The first will be construction of Centaur Ave. to Fairview Loop in late 2021. Starting in late 2023, DOT will begin work on Phase two to expand KGB from Fairview Loop to Settlers Bay Dr.
“We’re looking to spending over $160 million on this facility,” Tom Schmidt, the project manager, said.
Many spoke out against both the long timeline and the order of the phases, claiming that most of the traffic was concentrated along that section. Schmidt said that it’s his No. 1 priority, and that he must do his due diligence when it comes to eminent domain. Schmidt said that they chose to start on the first phase to ease the right-of-way acquisition process. This construction will affect over 200 properties, which is the main obstacle that the state, DOT and Mat-Su Borough must address going forward on the expansion project.
Though the officials promise progress, one resident had criticisms of the process the state has to go through. Will Lee compared the road conditions and maintenance of Alaska to the Lower 48, with California being one example.
“Well, I remember…my God, these roads are crazy. They’re maintained,” Lee said.
He then noted California’s high gasoline tax dedicated to road construction and maintenance. California has the second highest gas tax in the nation at 57.8 cents per gallon, whereas Alaska has the lowest at 14.7 cents per gallon.
“KGB really is a cautionary tale of the amount of massive growth that we see in the Valley and what can we do as a community, both as a state and boroughs and cities working together to acknowledge where are the next KGB’s going to be at,” said Wolfgang Junge, central director for DOT.
Junge said he’s repeatedly asked Mat-Su Borough Manager John Moosey to hand the Bogard Road and Seldon Road problems over to the DOT.
“As it sits today, the borough does not have road power authorities, the borough does not have law enforcement authorities, the planning and zoning has been problematic throughout the borough area,” Junge said.
The federal government is funding this project which comes with many rules and procedures as to how the funds are spent. MacKinnon said that the buying power of federal funds is essentially lower than that of state funds due to the additional procedures and guidelines from the federal government.
“Again, you know they don’t make it easy, but they give us $500 million a year,” MacKinnon said. “We follow their rules.”