Speed limit goes up on 20-mile stretch of Sterling Highway

a speed limit 65 mph sign on a stretch of road
The speed limit increases from 55 to 65 heading east on the Sterling Highway, near the turn on to Skilak Lake Road. (Riley Board/KDLL)

It might take just a little less time to drive the Sterling Highway from one entrance of Skilak Lake Road to the other. That’s because the Alaska Department of Transportation changed the speed limit there from 55 to 65 miles per hour.

The change went into effect on Sept. 2.

The decision came after improvements to that stretch of highway in 2020, followed by a speed limit evaluation in the summers of 2021 and 2022, according to Justin Shelby, a spokesperson with transportation department.

“Based on the data gathered in that study, the recommendation was to increase the speed limit from 55 to 65 miles per hour,” he said.

Shelby said, in general, a recommendation to increase the speed limit is often related to factors like visibility, the width and straightness of the road, and the amount of cross traffic that travels onto the road.

Commenters on the department’s Facebook announcement about the change expressed concerns about excessive and reckless speeding in the area in the wake of the speed limit increase. Shelby said it actually may have the opposite effect.

“When there is a respected speed limit for most motorists, you actually improve safety by reducing the reckless and aggressive driving by others,” he said. “So by raising the speed limit, we’re actually looking to improve the safety of the road here.”

The stretch of highway — between Mileposts 58 and 76 — runs through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Shelby did not comment on the impact to wildlife that a speed limit increase might have, though he did say the department always cautions drivers in Alaska, and particularly in the refuge, to be on the lookout for wildlife.

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