Ever notice how the third lane of the southbound Seward Highway tapers into two lanes, just as the highway begins approaching its most congested access point, Dimond Boulevard?
Or, have you ever found yourself caught in a holiday-time queue of vehicles backing up onto the highway at the southbound Dimond exit?
Those annoyances will soon become a thing of the past.
Construction is underway on a $55.9 million, two-year project to widen the Seward Highway to three lanes in each direction between Dimond Boulevard and Dowling Road, to replace aging culverts to assist fish passage in Campbell Creek’s flows beneath the highway and to create new connections in areas east and west of the highway to provide alternate routes to the 50,000-plus-vehicle-per-day Dimond Boulevard-Abbott Road shopping district artery.
QAP is the contractor on the project.
“The purpose of this job is to increase capacity on the highway to relieve those pressures, delays and congestion,” said Chong Kim, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities’ project engineer for the Dimond-to-Dowling project.
Dimond-to-Dowling is the second of a three-phase project. The first phase involved revamping the highway between 36th Avenue and Dowling, and the third phase — currently in the design phase — will improve the segment of the Seward Highway between Dimond and O’Malley Road.
Campbell Creek’s north and south forks flow under the highway near 68th and 80th avenues, so the first step in construction this past spring began replacing the anadromous stream’s aging culverts with newly designed box culverts. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game requested the work.
“The reason we started early was to maintain the current fish passage while constructing box culverts,” Kim said.
Inlets and outlets of the new box culverts went in, and then work began to connect them and temporarily divert the channel so the old culvert could be removed.
To make this process possible, the frontage roads — Brayton Drive on the east side of the highway, from Dimond to 68th Avenue, and Homer Drive on the west side of the highway, south of 68th Avenue — were closed, with detours funneling traffic onto the northbound highway at Lore Road and to local businesses on the east side via Sandlewood Place (which will be extended 1,000 feet to Lore to enable a connection to Meadow Street and then 72nd and 68th avenues) and on the west side via the Old Seward Highway. Storm drains were also installed.
The connectivity aspect of the project involved building an underpass connecting Lore Road with 76th Avenue, necessitating raising the highway 25 to 26 feet.
Enabling this to happen, traffic was shunted off the southbound highway onto Homer Drive just south of Dowling and then returned to the highway just north of Dimond. Then in early June, the same process took place on the northbound lanes of the highway, with traffic shunted onto Brayton Drive north of Dimond and back onto the highway just south of Dowling.
“My goal is to make sure people don’t feel it, that it’s a smooth transition,” Kim said, in early May, of moving highway flow onto and then off the frontage roads.
Next year, construction begins on roundabouts at Lore that will enable access to the highway. And, the frontage roads will be improved, with paving, striping and sidewalks being added.
“Seward will be over the top,” Butcher said of the new bridge. “Dowling is a double-car roundabout; this will be a single-car roundabout.”
An exit will eventually be added at 92nd Avenue, to offer another alternate in addition to the new Lore-76th connection.
“We’ve got to have traffic onto the Seward by Oct. 31, with traffic over the new bridge,” said Ray Butcher, QAP’s project supervisor. “Next year, Homer and Brayton will be reconstructed. 2019 will be touch-up stuff, landscaping.”
Butcher added that construction is expected to be complete by the end of June 2019.
Check AlaskaNavigator.org to see the updated status of the Dimond-to-Dowling project.
Tracy Kalytiak is a freelance writer who lives in Palmer.