Amid safety concerns, the Alaska Department of Transportation is closing a popular water gathering spot on the Seward Highway.
The department says the drainage, at mile 109, is in an area at high risk for rockfall. Shannon McCarthy, with DOT, said the department was already assessing hazards in the area, when an unexpected event made it more unstable at the end of 2018.
“The Nov. 30 earthquake happened and it’s really increased the rockfall at this site,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said after the quake, the department closed off the area with barricades and signs. But this would be a permanent closure, modifying rock to remove access to the water. And, to keep cars from parking on the cliff side of the road.
McCarthy said the conversation about safety in the area has been going on for many years. Concerns go beyond rockfall, and include the combination of pedestrians crossing a road with high-speed traffic.
“We’ve gotten a lot of complaints from folks who are driving through the area that they’ve had a lot of near misses,” McCarthy said. “There was a crash there several years ago. Someone rear-ended someone that was slowing down at the water pipe. And the person that was hit actually went into the Southbound lane.”
This is not an official water source. According to DOT, the water comes from holes drilled in the 1980s to help relieve pressure on the rock. It was members of the public who added pipes to help collect the water.
McCarthy says DOT is currently working on a highway safety improvement project. Work will be done on seven areas between milepost 114 and 104, including two around milepost 109.
The department is also considering a long-term effort to move the cliff at milepost 109 further away from the highway.