Crews are planning to wrap up the construction on Sawmill Creek Road in Sitka soon; possibly by the middle of next month.

The project to resurface the downtown section of Sawmill Creek Road and expand bicycle and pedestrian access has been a long time coming. It’s been in the design phase for around a decade, but construction finally kicked off this summer.

Joe Willhoite is the construction manager for the project. In an interview with KCAW on Friday (9-16-22), he said for the most part it’s going smoothly, though they’ve hit a couple of snags.

“We had a few concerned citizens about some archaeological concerns that we had that were adjacent to our site. And I think we’ve kind of taken care of those, and been very open to addressing our potential impacts on those,” he said. “[There were] a few little things with the city that we had to correct. Like leaking pipes and stuff like that that, kind of fortuitously ended up being a good thing for the city, [but] slowed us down slightly.” 

Typically, the Alaska Department of Transportation wraps up road construction in Southeast Alaska mid-September as the weather changes. But the Sawmill Creek construction will extend into late October, as long as the weather cooperates. 

“Sitka is a little more temperate than in Juneau and Haines, for example,” Willhoite said. “We’re probably going to push it to the end of October. There are certain things we can’t do, like painting asphalt. We have to have everything up to a certain temperature to be able to get those done. But usually, we can get that done in Sitka a little bit later than some of the other places.” 

But the project still won’t be finished quite yet- just on hiatus. Willhoite said the road will be paved for the winter, but it may not have line markings, since you can’t paint those in rainy weather.

For a community with only 14 miles of road, where it usually takes only five or ten minutes to get where you’re going, the construction has given a somewhat unusual experience to Sitka drivers this summer–traffic delays. It’s prompted some community concerns too– like worries about cars idling for long periods of time next to a local elementary school, and a few documented instances of “road rage.” Willhoite said for the most part, however, people have been kind to the flaggers and construction crews, and he thanked Sitkans for their patience.

“These guys are tired, working through some bad weather, working as hard as they can. Just be patient with them,” Willhoite said.

“Recognize that they are the symbol of progress, and they’re the symbol of improvement for the city of Sitka and they’re not out there to make things worse, they’re out there to make things better,” he added. “So view them as that, and even, if possible, thank them as you drive by, because we don’t get a lot of that.” 

He said DOT plans to pick up construction of the road again in April of 2023— with a tentative end date in June.