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Dillingham downtown street repairs postponed until summer 2019

Isabelle Ross/KDLG

Dillingham’s downtown streets won’t see repairs for another year. The Dillingham Downtown Streets Rehabilitation project has been postponed until summer 2019, because acquiring right-of-way for the project is taking longer than expected. It was originally supposed to take place summer 2017.

This is the second year that the Dillingham streets project has been delayed because the Alaska Department of Transportation has not yet acquired right-of-way, which involves identifying which properties will be affected by construction and negotiating with the owners. The street rehabilitation project has been in the planning stages since at least 2005.

“We’re still in the process of acquiring the right-of-way for the project,” said Aaron Hughes, the Department of Transportation project manager for the Dillingham streets project. “We’re hoping that gets wrapped up pretty soon. We’ll be finishing up the design here for the summer. I would expect construction to begin here in the summer of 2019. The project is roughly 95 percent designed. We’re just going back and making sure the design meets our current standards, and kind of button it up for project advertising.”

The project will repair sections of Main Street, 2nd Avenue, and D Street. The plan includes a complete reconstruction of the road, new sidewalks and pathways around the loop, and a new storm drain system. Hughes said that complications in acquiring the right-of-way have delayed the projected timeline.

“It depends on which property you’re trying to acquire. It’s kind of an unknown factor for us to predict. It’s taking longer than I would have hoped.”

A Department of Transportation memo from 2005 says that the original right-of-way acquisition for the streets was not filed correctly, and that the Dillingham streets project would have to address these errors before beginning new construction. This complicates the current acquisition process. Errors in the 1984 right-of-way acquisition include the original right-of-way layout, and a failure to record easements in the State Recorder’s Office. The current right-of-way acquisition has also been held up by confusion over property ownership.

“I know that they’re trying to clear one area that was actually hard to identify who actually owned the property,” said Dillingham city manager Tod Larson. “They’ve been having difficulty trying to figure that out, so it’s going through the court system.” Larson said that the property in question is located on Main Street, out around the front of the Bristol Express.

Some of Dillingham’s most dilapidated streets are not included in the downtown rehabilitation project. Larson says that the city has yet to reach a decision on what to do about the streets not included in the project under current budget restrictions.

“Especially the ones around the post office and coming up towards the high school, I mean they’re – they failed,” Larson said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to get through until next summer, but the patching and things… If we did that, that’d be a lot of money put into a street that we’re hopefully going to tear up in the next year now.”

Credit Isabelle Ross/KDLG
D Street West, in front of the Dillingham post office.

Larson said that the city is juggling two areas of funding regarding Dillingham’s street repairs. The first area of funding directly relates to the repairs themselves. The second area is a grant the city needs for other infrastructure repairs.  

“It’s a grant that has infrastructure dollars attached to it, because we need to repair and/or replace some water piping underneath the current road,” Larson said. “So, you know, we don’t want to go and pave the street and then tear it up because we’re trying to fix the street underneath it. So we’re trying to get that coordinated at the same time. There are a lot of moving parts to this project.”

Dillingham’s streets have been in various states of disrepair for over 20 years. In 1994, the Alaska Department of Transportation declared the downtown streets to be in deplorable condition. Ten years later, in 2004, the city chose to have a paving contractor repave the downtown streets. The contractor was in town on another project. Those repairs did not reconstruct the base or replace the curb, gutter, or sidewalk. The paving subsequently wore thin and made it difficult to maintain the streets.

Regarding the Dillingham streets project, Hughes, the project manager, remains hopeful.

“We keep pushing along as much as we can,” Hughes said. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel, so hopefully it’ll be wrapped up here pretty soon.”

In the meantime, the city council is exploring options for temporary fixes to the downtown roads.

Contact the author at or 907-842-5281.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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