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The state will rehabilitate Polk Road, then open it to the public

Polk Road on Sep. 5. The road's rehabilitation will start next construction season.
Sunni Bean
Polk Road on Sep. 5. The road's rehabilitation will start next year.

In Bethel, the contentious battle over Polk Road has come to an end. Polk Road, or Tundra Ridge Road, is a dirt trail that links the Tundra Ridge neighborhood to BIA road, turning the city’s horseshoe-shaped traffic pattern into a loop. However, it ran through the Polk family’s Native allotment and the family wanted to keep the road private. The city preferred an alternative route, but it was more expensive to construct.

In 2021, a federal judge ruled that the Alaska Department of Transportation (ADOT) could take possession of Polk Road in the summer of 2022 via eminent domain. This means that the government can take the Polk family’s private property, despite its opposition, and, with compensation to the property owners, convert it into public use. The opening of the road decreases commute time for residents living in Tundra Ridge and creates access for emergency vehicles.

Now that the state is in charge of Polk Road, it’s planning to rehab the dirt road before officially opening it to the public.

"We're planning to kick that off starting next construction season. And once that project is complete, that road will be turned over to the City of Bethel to maintain,” said ADOT Administrative Operations Manager Justin Shelby.

Though many are already driving on the dirt road, it’s extra muddy and full of potholes. ADOT considers it closed until the project is complete. They have the designs, but are still in the planning phase for construction.

“We just got a contractor on board for this a little while ago,” said Shelby. “So I don't think we have a schedule yet. Likely it'll be late spring, early summer, but that's just an estimate at this point.”

While initially KYUK reported that construction was due to start this summer and that the new road would be paved, now the state expects construction to start next construction season and the road will be gravel.

“We're gonna bring it up to kind of the same quality of road as the other gravel road in that area,” Shelby said. “But it'll be in much better condition than that section by H-Marker Lake.”

There is no exact timeline, but the state says that Polk Road will be in much better shape when the job is complete.

Sunni is a reporter and radio lover. Her favorite part of the job is sitting down and having a good conversation.