ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The State of Alaska unveiled a broad-based $165 million plan Thursday to better protect drivers in safety corridors on the Seward Highway and three other heavily traveled Alaska roads, featuring a mix of improvements to roads, technology and law enforcement.
Gov. Sean Parnell announced the Intelligent Transportation System initiative at the Alaska State Troopers post in Girdwood -- a focal point for troopers’ responses to fatal crashes on the Seward, which claimed six lives in 2012. Five people died in crashes on the highway in 2010, with four more killed in 2011.
Two state commissioners, Joe Masters with the Department of Public Safety and Pat Kemp with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, were also on hand. While Masters credited enhanced enforcement by officers with 9,000 citations and 260 DUI arrests along the Seward from 2006 through 2008, saying the past five years have been the highway’s lowest for total crashes, Parnell says more is necessary.
“We have new work to do because people are still losing their lives,” Parnell said.
Under the initiative, which has some elements becoming available in April but many expected to take several years, five new pullouts for slow vehicles will be added to the Seward between Mile 76 and Mile 116. Additional work will be done to repave the highway between Girdwood and Bird Point, in addition to improving the alignment and guardrails of a dangerous curve at Mile 88.
Other improvements slated for the Seward include automated speed detectors, which will notify drivers exceeding posted speed limits but won’t display their exact speed. Additional emergency-call boxes and weather and avalanche sensors will also be installed along the highway, and the state is planning to work with communications companies to improve cellphone coverage throughout its length.
A major element of the Seward plan, being spearheaded by DOTPF, involves reducing the length of highway closures due to fatal crashes. Sharon Leighow, a spokesperson for Parnell, says state troopers will be issued additional gear with which to conduct investigations, in an attempt to speed up the clearance of wrecks from the highway.
A new traffic coordinator -- Steve Horn, a DOTPF veteran from 1976 to 2008 -- and a new operations center will oversee conditions on all four of the state’s highway safety corridors. Those areas include parts of the Seward, Sterling and Parks highways, as well as Knik-Goose Bay Road in the Mat-Su Valley.
DOTPF spokesperson Jeremy Woodrow says an estimated total of $16.4 million will be spent on the Seward Highway in 2013, including $5.7 million on the repaving project and $10.7 million on the Mile 88 curve improvements.
State officials plan to implement the initiative as funds become available to do so, with Leighow noting that Alaska is expected to receive $150 million in federal highway grants over the next three years.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story inaccurately named the Glenn Highway, rather than the Sterling Highway, as one of Alaska's four highway safety corridors.