For those fifteen miles, Sterling Highway
is a slow-moving parking lot until the road
widens once more to four lanes at Mile 60.
Along with being incredibly congested, it
also has a high rate of accidents.
As far back as 1978, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
(DOT&PF) noted the need for improved safety
and traffic flow and started environmental impact studies (EIS) to determine the best way to
improve that stretch of road. Forty years later it
remains unchanged. It is the longest EIS on the
federal books. What has taken so long?
In short, it’s a case of too many cooks in
the kitchen. Because the Sterling Highway
corridor is bounded by federal land, it falls
under an EIS process that typically can take
anywhere from eight to ten years, according
to Marc Luiken, commissioner for DOT&PF.
And every agency involved has its own National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“You have to follow that process,” Luiken
says. “It’s not just the Federal Highway Ad-
ministration. Every federal agency gets in-
volved and has input.”
In the case of Sterling Highway, the US
Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Ser-
vice, an Alaska Native corporation, and the
community of Cooper Landing would be af-
fected by a potential realignment.
“Everybody gets input,” Luiken says. “Not
that that’s a bad thing, necessarily—it just
The land adjacent to the highway is largely
developed. Steep mountains rise on both
sides and most of the land is managed by
the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai
National Wildlife Refuge. Several state recreation sites line the Kenai River.
“Any change to the highway likely would
impact wildlife corridors and habitat, recreation areas, and cultural sites,” according to
As far back as 1978, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities noted the
need for improved safety and traffic flow and started environmental impact studies to figure out
the best way to improve [a section of the Sterling Highway]. Forty years later that stretch of road
remains unchanged. It is the longest EIS on the federal books.