DOT Engineering Manager Chris Goins gives a presentation during a Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

The Alaska Department of Transportation is working toward a major reconstruction of Ketchikan’s primary downtown corridor, with work set to start this fall.

DOT Engineering Manager Chris Goins gave a presentation this week during the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch. He said the design plans call for wider sidewalks to better accommodate pedestrian traffic. That means roadways will be narrower, but he says there won’t be any reduction in the number of lanes.

Goins said crews will start on the downtown sidewalks as soon as October 1st. Plans call for the work to be done in phases, to minimize the impact. Access to businesses along that corridor will be maintained.

If all goes well, the sidewalk work should be completed by May of 2018, which coincides with the start of the busy cruise season. That’s when DOT plans to do road work. Goins said that, too, will be done in phases, and at night.

“That will hopefully keep us off of the roads while you guys have the most business going on,” he said. “We know there is going to be some inconvenience with the night work, but we figured that was the best way to keep business moving and active, and traffic moving through town.”

Part of the planned roadwork should take care of what Goins calls the “roller-coaster ride” on Mill Street. Those lumps and bumps in the road are caused by pilings, still there from before the street was a street.

Back when the street was built, crews filled spaces between the piles, and over time that fill settled. Goins said the soft material goes deep, too – at least 20 feet.

They’re not going to dig that far down to fix it.  

“So, we’re digging down 4 feet from the top of the road, chopping off those piles, getting rid of those pile caps, compacting back up, and we believe that will help,” he said. “It’s not going to stop the settling. But we think it will be minimized. To go down 20-30 feet in downtown, you’re talking a monumental effort and you guys would very much not be happy with us at all.”

An audience member expressed concern about how narrower streets would affect safety for bicyclists downtown. Goins said there aren’t plans for a bike path, because there isn’t room for one.

“We have very limited right of way for the uses that we have here,” he said. “We’re focusing on those. Right now, you go through downtown, there’s no bicycle lanes now. You have to act like you’re a vehicle. And that won’t change going forward on this project.”

The Front, Mill and Stedman streets reconstruction project will lead to a loss of several parking spaces along that corridor. Goins says that’s mainly due to the ADA-compliant corner “bulb-outs” that are meant to improve pedestrian safety.

Goins is scheduled to speak more about the project to the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday. The Council will vote on a motion to allow the nighttime work next summer.

UPDATE: The City Council delayed action on DOT’s request until its next meeting.