This shows the new roundabouts on Chena Hot Springs Road at the Steese Highway intersection and the overweight truck bypass lanes that would be removed if the state builds a new bridge, as now proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, to support the Kinross trucking plan.

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[Reprinted from Reporting From Alaska, dermotcole.com, with permission of Dermot Cole]

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson need to be honest with the public about the new state plan to spend $200 million or more on road and bridge upgrades between Tetlin and Fairbanks to benefit the Kinross trucking plan.

The projects are now in the budget because of the enormous amount of new federal money available to the state and because Dunleavy has told the department to say yes to the Kinross plan to run oversized trucks every 7.5 minutes on the route for years to come.

“There’s too much ‘no,’” according to Dunleavy. “No trucks on the road from Tetlin to Fort Knox . . .”

“I need Alaska to say yes to everything,” the governor told the Daily News-Miner last month.

The state yes plan is to replace the Robertson, Gerstle, Johnson and Chena Flood Control and Steese bridges at a total cost that will probably exceed $200 million.

There is no money in the budget that I can find for the Robertson bridge replacement. The estimates on the others range from a total of $135 million to $180 million.

The most surprising of the Dunleavy projects is the $5 million to $10 million plan to replace the Steese Highway bridge at Chena Hot Springs Road.

It’s surprising because the state would have to rip up a brand new road project on which it spent millions to install new roundabouts and trucking bypass lanes. The bypass lanes have hand-operated gates that are used when heavy loads travel north on the Steese Highway without crossing the bridge.

The new bridge would “eliminate the need for bypass for heavy loads on a critical freight route” DOT says on its website for the bridge project.

Anderson was the regional supervisor when the roundabouts and the new bypass routes were built. This KUAC story from 2021 said the project cost $5 million.

The roundabouts were built with federal funds.

Anderson needs to be candid with Alaskans about the waste and bad planning represented by replacing a brand new road project and exactly how these items came to be in the budget. The state press release from Anderson’s department contains a lot of extraneous hoo-hah, but the mine connection is only hinted at.

The press release is also misleading because the Dunleavy revisions to the capital budget do not cover all the costs of replacing four bridges, as the state claims.

The claim by Anderson that replacing four bridges on the Tetlin-Fort Knox route “have been part of the conversations surrounding proposed mining development” is deceptive. His department has been acting like a Kinross business partner in the project, not an institution responsible for representing the general public.

The state is a partner in the project through the $10 million invested by the Alaska Permanent Fund in Contango ORE.

Before the new plan to replace the Steese bridge, the Kinross trucking plan appeared to be for the Kinross trucks to exit the Steese via the off-ramp at Chena Hot Springs Road and go straight to the on-ramp, avoiding the bridge by taking the bypass route.

In 2021, when Anderson was regional supervisor, DOT said the bypass routes were needed.

”Installing 25-foot-long truck gates for the truck bypass lanes—truck bypass lanes through the roundabouts are necessary as routes for oversized vehicles that are too big and/or heavy to travel on the overpass bridge,” Anderson’s office said two years ago.

Meanwhile, there is confusion and conflicting numbers about how much the new bridges will cost.

Dunleavy has put $51 million into the proposed budget for the Gerstle and Johnson River bridge replacements, but the engineer’s estimate for the two is between $80 million and $100 million.

Replacing the northbound lanes of the flood control bridge—there is no plan to replace the southbound lanes, perhaps because the Kinross trucks won’t need a new bridge when they travel empty—would cost from $20 million to $30 million, the engineer estimate says. The budget has only $1 million set aside for that work in the next fiscal year.

The cost numbers reported by the Daily News-Miner are misleading and far lower than the real costs, mainly because the Dunleavy budget does not include the full numbers.

Here are screenshots from the DOTPF procurement website with tentative advertising schedules and cost estimates for the key projects.

Richardson Passing Lanes and Chena Flood Control Bridge (374 downloads )

 

CHSR MP5 Bridge (145 downloads )

 

Johnson and Gerstle River Bridges (123 downloads )