The Alaska Department of Transportation is starting to make offers on private land it needs to widen a section of Knik-Goose Bay Road on the edge of Wasilla. The road has seen ever-increasing traffic on a two-lane design intended for fewer vehicles.
“KGB” Road, as it is known, peaks at about 19,000 vehicles on a busy day and has a rate of fatal crashes nearly four times the national average, according to the DOT.
The project will expand about eight miles of road to four lanes — that’s two lanes on each side of a depressed grass median — at a cost of $160 million, with federal funding for the 6 and 1/2 miles closest to Wasilla and the state paying for the other 1.3 miles. That price tag includes designing the new road, relocating utilities, buying land for the right-of-way, and, of course, construction costs.
And while there’s general agreement the road needs to be improved, some neighbors are upset about the impacts of widening it. That includes Knik Tire and Auto owner Jeff Adolf, whose shop sits directly in the way of a planned bike path.
“You know, I’m all about progress,” Adolf said. “I’m willing to buy a piece of property and move, but they aren’t willing to give me enough money to even make it possible.”
The initial offer for his property, which includes a building separate from his shop that houses a tattoo parlor and a Tae Kwon Do studio, is far lower than what he would need to purchase another piece of land to start over, Adolf said.
If Adolf does not agree to the state’s price for his land, they’d end up in court, and he worries he could be left with even less.
“I mean this is an over-a-million-dollar-a-year business. I can’t just leave that. I can’t just walk away,” Adolf said. “You know, I’m here six days a week, 12 hours a day most days. It’s very difficult to deal with.”
Adolf’s is one of the five full properties the state needs to buy to widen KGB Road. So far, only one owner has accepted an offer, according to DOT. There are also about 70 other partial properties the state needs to buy.
DOT project manager Tom Schmid said a major challenge is relocating utilities in the right-of-way, which, along with widening the roadway itself, means they need more land.
“In a perfect world, which none of us live in, planners would look into the future and say, ‘Well, there’s going to be a large growth in this area, so we need to accommodate by making improvements to the infrastructure that’s within this area to accommodate that growth,'” Schmid said.
As the Mat-Su Borough’s population grew faster than anywhere in the state, Schmid said, that kind of major infrastructure improvement did not happen on KGB Road, which is now rated “F” for its level of service.
“We are behind the curve on that. Mat-Su is really a very good example of where we didn’t have that,” Schmid said. “We’re catching up, but we’re playing catch up with the growth. The growth is in front of us, and that’s not really where you want to be in our world.”
With construction on the four miles closest to Wasilla’s core set to begin next summer, the state and its independent appraiser are just starting the process of acquiring land. Adolf’s property was one of the first to get an offer, Schmid said.
Schmid would not discuss specifics, but he said the state offers fair market value for land it needs and generally tries to avoid going to court.
“We engage everybody that we can repeatedly through the development of the project, to try to understand and be as fair as we can be,” Schmid said. “Is it a perfect system? By no means. Does everybody come to the table with the same understanding? Probably not. But we try to be as informative as anyone could expect, or should expect.”
The state does its best to design roads to minimize impacts to property owners, Schmid said. But after looking at all the other possible designs, the current design for KBG Road is the best option for current and future capacity, he said.
Meantime, Adolf says he’s hired a lawyer and his own appraiser. The state wants him out by January, he said.
“Like I said, I’m fine with progress, but it’s the way they’re doing it is just wrong,” Adolf said.