The Katlian Bay Road would extend for nine miles from the end of Sitka's existing road system. (Image courtesy of DOT)

The Katlian Bay Road would extend for nine miles from the end of Sitka’s existing road system. (Image courtesy of DOT)

The state Department of Transportation has laid out its plans for a major addition to the Sitka road system. DOT officials described the proposed 9-mile road into Katlian Bay during presentations last week.

You can find the full presentation from DOT here. The project website is here.

Downloadable audio

This image illustrates a proposed day-use area for the end of the new Katlian Bay Road. (Image courtesy of DOT)

This image illustrates a proposed day-use area for the end of the new Katlian Bay Road. (Image courtesy of DOT)

The proposal calls for a single-lane gravel road to connect Sitka’s existing road system to lands owned by the local Native Corporation, Shee Atika.

“It’s essentially an extension of Halibut Point Road,” DOT’s Keith Karpstein told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. “It’ll just come right off the end of the road and extend nine miles into the Bay and eastward, to the termini of the Shee Atika boundary.”

The road would run along the bay, with regular look-outs, and turnouts for vehicles to pass one another. It would end in a trailhead and day-use area, with parking and picnic tables, near the boundary between U.S. Forest Service and Shee Atika land.

From there, the plan calls for rehabilitating an existing Forest Service road as a walking, biking and ATV trail, similar to Sitka’s cross-trail.

Karpstein said the project is designed to provide more recreation and subsistence opportunities by offering more access to Forest Service land; and to create access to the Shee Atika lands for future development.

The original proposal stuck close to the shoreline, but the current plan moves the road inland at points, to minimize the impact. The road crosses several streams along the route, but the biggest crossing is the Katlian River, Karpstein said.

“Getting across Katlian River was a big deal,” he said. “The original conceived route…looking at the Katlian Bay crossing, it was about 300 feet, which was way more than what we wanted to deal with. There would be impacts to the river, we’d have to do mid-span piers, we just didn’t want to do that. That was one reason we dismissed the original conceived route.”

The current project calls for a 150-foot bridge over the river.

DOT estimates the project will cost about $16-million altogether. The Department already has $14-million on hand. Alaska voters approved that funding in November 2012, as part of the $454-million Alaska Transportation Projects Bonds Question, which raised funds for transit projects statewide.

Karpstein said it’s not clear yet where that final $2-million might come from. DOT is looking at ways to reduce the scope of the project. Or, he said, the Department might go back to the legislature.

“With today’s budget scenario, that’s a tough question to ask,” he said. “But we can do that. And ultimately we won’t know [the final cost] until we get contractors’ bids.”

So far, DOT has completed “numerous” environmental studies and initial engineering and designs. Contractors will be back in the field in April to continue that work, and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game will conduct fisheries, wetlands and wildlife impact studies this summer.

If all goes well, the Department hopes to put the project out to bid in June 2016. Construction would take place in 2017, with the final project potentially completed in 2018.