A decades-long Sterling Highway upgrade could get the final approval in two months, state and federal transportation officials said Wednesday.

The project is better known as the Cooper Landing Bypass.

On Wednesday, transportation officials signed the final environmental impact statement during a news conference in Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet room.

What remains is a brief public comment period on a preferred proposed route near Juneau Creek. It’s one of four routes being studied. The fifth alternative would be no project at all.

The proposed project covers a 15-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway that currently runs through Cooper Landing. Cost estimates range from $250 million to $303 million and it's funded mostly by the federal government.

Project proponents say a bypass eases traffic volume and the summertime spikes, as well as reduces the chances of accidents.

Department of Transportation officials say peak summertime traffic can reach 13,000 motorists per day-- or about 10 times the daily average.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) and House Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Soldotna) also attended the news conference.

“As you know, we have some weekends in the summer, particularly around dipnet season, where we feel the transportation of thousands and thousands of Alaskans through Cooper Landing will be much safer through the completion of this project,” Micciche said.

DOT officials said the project faced numerous geographic challenges including proximity to the Kenai River and Lake, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Resurrection Pass National Recreation Trail; steep terrain; proximity to historic and cultural resource sites and limited right-of-way.

Last summer, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao visited Alaska and promised to streamline the environmental impact statement process.

On Wednesday, her office issued a statement reflecting on that visit.

“While visiting Alaska just last August, I was pleased to share the news that the Sterling Highway project would move closer to reality, and with today’s signing, work can finally begin,” Chao said in a prepared statement. 

The Sterling Highway project remains a good example of the need to streamline the environmental review process so projects like this one can begin more quickly.”

A 30-day public comment period begins next week. Officials expect to select a route in May. Construction could begin as early as 2020

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