ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — State highway officials are reducing snowplow service on the Seward Highway and Kenai Peninsula legislators say their communities will suffer.
Citing a budget cutback, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public announced it will not send out plows on the stretch of highway that includes Turnagain Pass from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., KTUU-television reported .
The department also will reduce snowplows for daytime plowing.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Shannon McCarthy said that it had no choice after losing $750,000 in motor fuel tax.
“If we have a heavy winter storm we may have to close the highway,” she said. “We’ll do everything we can to avoid that. We don’t want people traveling on an unsafe highway.”
A coordinator for the Eastern Peninsula Highway Emergency Service Area, which responds to traffic crashes in the area, said the decision will create hazards.
“I’ve had moments in this pass where we get on the road, and if there’s been thirty minutes between snow plows, there could be a foot of snow on the highway,” said Richard Brackin.
Heavy snow could put responders at risk, he said.
“We are honor bound to go help those people, it’s just the people that we are, and so we’re going to get in our trucks and we’re going to head out down the highway,” he said.
Three Kenai Peninsula legislators sent a letter to the department questioning the plowing decision. Reduced plowing and closures will affect the transport of essential items from the Port of Anchorage, they said.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said effects of short closures were obvious over the summer.
“We had the recent Swan Lake Fire and just intermittent closures during the fire resulted in empty grocery store shelves,” he said. “Many people missed their doctor’s appointments.”
Semi-tractor trailers that deliver goods will be forced from their usual early morning hours to midday schedules, leading to more concentrated traffic and additional safety concerns, lawmakers said.
Micciche said the department’s economic calculations are misguided.
“I don’t believe it will reduce cost,” he said, “I actually believe it will increase costs and the impacts to public safety will be significant.”
Information from: KTUU-TV, http://www.ktuu.com