Reality Check w/ John Tracy: Is it time to turn off water at Mile 109?
If you’re lucky enough to live in this part of Alaska, you know a couple of things about the drive on Turnagain Arm: if you’re here very early in the morning, you’re likely to get a close encounter with Dahl sheep. And, if you’re thirsty, you’ll find a popular watering hole at mile 109.
It’s a 3-inch hole to be exact. And out of it comes what some believe is the best drinking water in Alaska.
It’s so popular that many people make a weekly pilgrimage to fill up buckets and bottles with all they can carry. So popular, that the thirst for the spring water, has created a serious safety hazard.
On Sunday, a chain reaction crash sent five people to the hospital when a car was attempting to cross the highway to pull into the turnout.
What’s surprising is that accidents like this, or worse, don’t happen more often.
If you’re coming from Girdwood, there is no turn lane into this pullout. And once you make it here, you’ve got a 10-yard dash across the highway to the water pipe. It’s the Alaska version of the popular video game Frogger, which requires both patience and timing.
And those who park on the wrong side of the road create an even greater danger for drivers.
Alaskans are somewhat prepared for the hazard, just as we are for the bottleneck down the road during hooligan season. But, during the summer, the road volume doubles, with a lot of tourists distracted by belugas and bore tides.
DOT is planning to put up signage encouraging drivers to park in the pullout but that wouldn’t have prevented Monday’s accident. And there are no plans to widen the road to provide a turn lane because of the railroad tracks on one side and the rock cliff on the other.
As for the water itself, there’s nothing special about it. The state doesn’t test it, but when the Alaska Dispatch did this Spring, it turned up with four times the level of arsenic than the city’s water from Eklutna Lake– not dangerous, but certainly no healthier.
So here’s the question: should the state get rid of the pipe in the interest of safety? Or, perhaps fence it in, if not year round, then during summer months when the traffic doubles?
Girdwood residents have already weighed in. Their local advisory group, Girdwood 2020, is asking DOT to remove the pipe.
Driving this highway every day is risky enough. Does it need to be riskier by playing chicken with Alaskans in need of a very ordinary drink of water?
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