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Alaska Hits New Heights with Runway Project and Highway Pilot Program

By Sally Murdoch

Kodiak, Alaska's new runway enchances aviation safety

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) has completed a runway unlike any other at the Kodiak, Alaska airport. Although small in population at 6,500 residents, Kodiak is an important transportation hub. All commercial transportation between Kodiak Island and the outside world goes through Kodiak either by ferryboat or airline. Kodiak Island is completely separate from the Alaska mainland and is the second largest island in the U.S.

The airport needed a longer runway to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations. The FAA stated the airport needed to include a runway safety area, the surface surrounding the runway that reduces the risk of damage to airplanes in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway. There was one problem, however— there wasn’t enough land for a 600-foot runway extension.

That didn’t stop engineers and the ADOT&PF, however. The Kodiak Airport Runway Safety Area Extension project was launched in the winter of 2015 so teams could extend safety areas by 600 feet into the Gulf of Alaska. In essence, they built more land.

In order to provide safety areas and install two Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS) beds, ADOT&PF, the FAA, and project consultant HDR developed a plan to create land, made up of rocks mined from a rock quarry in Wrangell, Alaska and shipped 800 nautical miles by barge to Kodiak.

The result? A stunning display of engineering at the base of Barometer Mountain. As well as 2,400 concrete armor stone units for the land mass, the project also required 140,000 tons of riprap (a loose stone for foundations and breakwaters) and 1 million tons of gravel fill.

The project was completed in less than 18 months with a price tag of $59 million and was funded primarily through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program. The ADOT&PF oversees 249 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska.

State of Alaska Tests Different Speed Signs and Lanes for Safety

Another new public project Alaska has in effect is a pilot program to deter drivers from speeding and passing on the right or outside lanes of the Seward Highway. The Seward Highway is a 125-mile stretch of road belonging to the National Highway System (NHS), a network of roads deemed important to the country's economy, defense, and mobility.

Instead of a uniform speed in two lanes of the highway, speed signage now informs drivers that they may go up to 65 MPH in the fast or inside lane, and 55 MPH in the right or outside lane. The public is encouraged to allow others to pass, which should increase safety. By forcing vehicles in the right lane to travel slower, Alaska transportation officials say it is easier to pass and hope it decreases problematic aggressive behavior when the two lanes merge and when drivers feel like they have time to pass. State engineers maintain that passing lanes on the right are less effective in the slow lane and came up with this cost-effective option to maximize existing infrastructure while improving safety.

Traffic on the Seward Highway more than doubles for several days every year in July, when traffic jumps from a daily average of 9,000 vehicles to 20,000 vehicles daily. Stay tuned to see how this innovative pilot project progresses!

Visual Communication Keeps U.S. Roads Safe

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