Alaska editorial: Safety should come first on state highways

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Peninsula Clarion:

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The opening sentence in last week's lead story in the Clarion says it all: "Thirty-one people died in traffic accidents on the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Soldotna from 1977 to 2005."

We're not sure if the numbers are finally adding up enough for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to take notice or if the public outcry from these and the tragic accidents on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm has been too loud to ignore.

Those driving from Girdwood to Potter Marsh know all too well that law enforcement officials mean business with their yellow-orange flags and signs warning of double fines for speeding and other traffic violations.

Now the flags are heading to the area from the truck weigh station in Sterling to the Soldotna "Y."

The Sterling Highway's safety corridor, as these areas are called, has not gone into effect just yet, but it's expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Bringing attention to any dangerous stretch of road is a good thing, especially since it's designed to save lives. Few can say they haven't been distracted at one time or another while driving or that they haven't pushed the speed limit as far as they can at times. The subtle reminders of flags on speed limit signs will do much to gain drivers' attention.

The state's three-prong program involves highway engineering, public education and law enforcement. This means more than posting signs, according to DOT central region spokesman Rick Feller. Movable message signs also will be deployed, Feller said. And when the program goes into effect, Alaska State Troopers will make themselves pretty visible in the area. Much of the success of the program is attributed to their presence, so much so that DOT is pitching in overtime costs to keep officers on the road.

Kenai Peninsula roads have many dangerous curves and stretches, even when the snow and ice aren't clinging to them. But long summer days make for drowsy drivers, and looking away from the road for even a second can cause a vehicle to drift across the centerline.

There are numerous combinations that can result in a deadly collision. Unfortunately, it only takes one.

When the program gets under way on the Kenai Peninsula, it will be hard to miss the signs, flags and extra troopers on the Sterling Highway. But the reason for it all is a good one: Thirty-one deaths in 28 years is too many. One is too many.

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