The Sitka Sea Walk is about to get 1,763 feet longer.
The Alaska Transportation Alternatives Program (ATAP) recently announced it was funding $1.36 million for the second phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, which will extend the popular pathway between Harrigan Centennial Hall and the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock.
Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell, left, and State Sen. Bert Stedman cut the ribbon opening the Sitka Sea Walk on Alaska Day (Oct. 18), 2013.
This new phase of the walkway will run along the embankment on the water side of the bridge, allowing visitors and Sitka residents to walk from the lightering dock to Harrigan Centennial Hall without having to cross a busy street. The extension also will connect to the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk, completed in October 2013, which runs parallel to Lincoln Street from the Crescent Harbor parking lot to the border of the Sitka National Historical Park. The Sitka National Historical Park currently is hosting community meetings about various plans to complete the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk from the border of the park down to the park’s visitor center.
The total cost of Phase II of the Sitka Sea Walk is $1.7 million, with $200,000 coming from the Alaska Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) and $140,000 coming from the Commercial Passenger Excise Tax (CPET). In 2014, the city applied and was approved to receive $181.940 in FLAP funds (with a local match of $18,060), which become available in the Fall of 2017. The FLAP and CPET funds can be used to meet the $340,000 match requirement to receive the $1.36 million from ATAP.
On June 28, the Sitka Assembly approved the submission of the grant application for ATAP funds, and the state announced on July 28 that the Sitka Sea Walk extension was one of 15 projects funded around the state. While not in the application, the city also plans a connector path from the O’Connell Bridge lightering dock to Lincoln Street and Totem Square.
“I think it will be a great addition to the visitor industry, visitors can get off at (Harrigan) Centennial Hall and get to this part of town,” Sitka City Administrator Mark Gorman told the Daily Sitka Sentinel. “I think it will facilitate more walkability to all of Sitka. It will enhance the visitor experience.”
In the Sitka Assembly’s resolution approving the grant application, the Sitka Sea Walk and its extension are listed as priorities in the 2002 Sitka Non-Motorized Transportation Plan, the 2007 Sitka Comprehensive Plan, the Sitka Tourism Plans 1.0 and 2.0, the Sitka Downtown Master Plan, and the 2011 Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan. In surveys of cruise ship visitors and independent travelers completed in 2010 for the Sitka Sustainable Outdoor Recreation Action Plan, there was a desire for more walking and hiking activities and tours, and most cruise ship visitors choose to walk during their visit to Sitka.
In addition to helping celebrate Sitka’s connection to the sea, there is another big reason to build the Sitka Sea Walk extension — safety.
In a memorandum to Mayor Mim McConnell, the Sitka Assembly and Gorman about the application, Public Works Director Mark Harmon and Municipal Engineer Dan Tadic noted how the Sitka Sea Walk extension “around the seaward side of the O’Connell Bridge solves a long-standing, identified safety issue with pedestrians making uncontrolled crossings of the State of Alaska owned and maintained Harbor Drive. A comprehensive wayfinding signage system along with a designated pedestrian route will result in visitors moving in predictable ways. Not only is this a significant safety improvement, but (it) also reduces the potential for visitor-resident conflicts and frustration.”
When the first phase of the Sitka Sea Walk was built in 2013, safety also was a factor since before the Sitka Sea Walk pedestrians had to cross Lincoln Street at least twice to get to where sidewalks were only available on one side of the street. The construction of the Sitka Sea Walk not only eliminated the street crossings, it directed pedestrian traffic away from the street so there were fewer auto-pedestrian conflicts.
The ATAP funding is expected to become available in early 2017, pending an environmental review by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, according to Marcheta Moulton, small federal programs manager for the ADT&PF. Tadic said the city will probably go through the design process in Fall/Winter 2017-18, with construction starting in 2018.