The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is developing a Highway Safety Improvement Program project that will construct slow vehicle turnouts on the Sterling Highway. The project would add 22 of the turnouts to reduce injuries and fatalities between Soldotna and Baycrest Hill.
The proposed turnouts would be the best way to mitigate collisions on the Sterling Highway in the short term, according to a DOT crash pattern analysis done between 2004 and 2008. In those five years, a total of 613 crashes were reported, including six fatalities and almost two-hundred injuries. Half of the fatal injuries were head-on collisions.
The analysis outlined some of the reasons for those crash statistics, describing what frequent drivers of the highway probably have already observed.
The report says that 55 percent of the traffic on the Sterling Highway in the summer months is RV's, delivery trucks, commercial vehicles and vehicles pulling trailers. The mixture of lower speed, ‘sightseeing’, RV and boat hauling drivers with more aggressive weekend fishing trip drivers causes conflict and results in driver impatience, inattention, excessive speed, improper passing fatigue and more.
The situation becomes more complex in the summer months, when as many 7,000 vehicles travel that stretch of highway each day. In the winter months, that number drops to about twenty-five-hundred.
So part of the problem is too many drivers traveling at different speeds, but on top of that, the report recognized a total lack of dedicated passing lanes and slow vehicle turnouts - or SVT’s - on the 72 miles of highway that was analyzed.
The solution proposed by DOT is the installation of 22 SVT’s. The analysis said passing lanes would be desirable, there are simply too few one-mile stretches of highway that don’t involve wetlands or visibility constraints.
The department used a set of five criteria to determine placement of the turnouts. They will be placed according to where they would provide the most benefit, where sight distance is available for slow vehicles to reenter the highway, at or near where crashes have occurred, where there are no apparent environmental impacts or utility issues and where turnouts or passing lanes could be constructed with minimal widening of the roadway.
The department cites a National Cooperative Highway Research Program report that suggests a reduction in all fatal and injurious crashes of 40 percent, and reduction in all crashes of 30 percent. Incidents where a vehicle runs off the road is the type of crash that would be most susceptible to correction with the SVT’s. Head on, rear end and lane-changing crashes are also anticipated to be reduced.
A series of public meetings is scheduled for later this month beginning at Homer Middle School on November 27th, Ninilchik School the following day and Tustumena Elementary on November 29th. All meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The project is scheduled to begin next year.