Alaska lawmakers seek solutions to Seward Highway safety concerns

| 9/14/2009

A joint legislative task force met recently to discuss the safety of Alaska’s highways.

Two panels – the House Transportation and Judiciary committees – focused their attention on the Seward Highway. Eight people have died in crashes on the road since May, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Even with the problems along the 127-mile route from Anchorage to Seward, the number of fatal crashes on highways throughout the state could actually be down this year.

Among the contributing factors identified as safety concerns by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on the Seward Highway are increased traffic volumes, difficult travel conditions during the winter, “a diverse mix of roadway users” combined with a lack of passing opportunities and driver distraction.

Transportation and public safety department officials say the root of the problem is the number of vehicles using a highway meant for 2,000 vehicles a day. Officials say the highway routinely carries about 20,000 vehicles on a normal day.

To help combat safety issues, lawmakers are looking into implementing more no-passing zones, lowering the speed limit, and putting up barriers on the shoulders.

Critics of the passing restriction say it can lead to aggressive driving and increase the likelihood of wrecks. DOT officials say a better option is to install “rumble strips” in the center lane and shoulder of the highway. Reflective markers on curves also are planned, as well as low-cost spots to build turnouts for slow-moving vehicles.

Another change in place since the summer has more state troopers patrolling the highway than in past years. Lawmakers were told the unit no longer has too many vacant positions.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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