Calling it a "a major milestone in advancing one of the longest active environmental documents in the United States," Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said the Federal Highway Administration and Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities had signed the final environmental impact statement for a road project on the Sterling Highway.
The announcement said the review process for the project started nearly 40 years ago. Signing the final EIS allows the state "to address the long-standing issues with the Sterling Highway between Milepost 45-60, which does not serve the high volume of traffic, fails to meet modern highway design standards and has safety concerns."
The highway now runs through the small southern Alaska community of Cooper Landing, and since the planned project would create a bypass it is better known in the area as the Cooper Landing Bypass. The project would reportedly cost $250 million or more.
Challenges related to developing the project, the governor's office said, came from its proximity to the Kenai River and Lake, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Resurrection Pass National Recreation Trail, as well as steep terrain, nearby historic and cultural resource sites, and limited rights-of-way.
A public comment period is now open on the identified preferred route by Juneau Creek and will end April 16.
Said Walker: "Everyone who's driven this stretch of Sterling Highway knows that improvements are needed. I thank our partners at the Federal Highway Administration for hearing Alaskan voices and making this breakthrough."
He singled out U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for praise. "After visiting Alaska last year, the secretary prioritized the effort to make an agreement," Walker said.
Chao issued a statement both congratulating Alaska officials for reaching this point, and underscoring the administration's emphasis on speeding up project reviews. "The Sterling Highway project remains a good example of the need to streamline the environmental review process so projects like this one can begin more quickly," she said.
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