SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Spring has sprung, rat-a-tat-tat!
By Dave Kiffer


April 17, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Everyone seems to have a different way of determining when spring has arrived in Ketchikan.

For my five-year-old, it is the warmer temps ("Let's play outside!") and the "birdies" on the deck.

For my mother, it is the rising to sunlight of the skunk cabbages leaves and stalks.

For my wife, it is the arrival of the jewelry store owners and their "not from here" clothes and automobiles.

For me, it is the sound of jackhammers on pavement. Yes, it is spring. The Annual Ketchikan Street Break-Up has begun.

gif Road Construction

Road Construction
By Tab, The Calgary Sun
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

It's similar to how they mark the season up north. Of course, "there" it is the ice cracking and flowing away on the Nenana River. They even take bets on when it will happen and people win big money for guessing right.

In Ketchikan, something similar happens every spring when the inevitable street construction work starts "cracking" up the blacktop and cement. Of course, the only thing that immediately "flows away" down here is our driving patience.

It's been happening ever since I was a young boy. You could set your clocks (and calendars) by it. The minute that winter had passed, either the state or city or some governmental entity would immediately start to tear up the streets. And those streets - or similar nearby ones - would remain torn up until the rains of October would come to fill the potholes.

Sometimes the same section of street would get torn up multiple times during the course of the summer, either because of mistakes made the first time (oops, didn't mean to pave over than manhole!) or because different groups didn't coordinate (first public works tears up the street and replaces the sewer line. Then they pave over it. Then KPU comes along, tears it up, and replaces the water line a month later. We've seen that happen again and again.).

This week, I heard a jackhammer rapping away on lower Dock Street and thought "ah finally, Spring."

I also thought: Who's bright idea was it to start working on the street or sidewalk or whatever, just a couple of weeks before the tourist season starts? Couldn't this have been done a few weeks ago? I guess not.

The breakup has also been taking place in earnest over on the section of Tongass (or Water or Front or whatever it is called over there) around the tunnel. The state - of course - has decided to do some major work (an extension of last year's major work or a prelude to next year's major work, no doubt), also right before the beginning of the summer rush. Go figure.

But then that's the same organization that waited until summer was almost over last year to start "resurfacing" the Water Street (that same section of "Tongass") viaduct and thus left it half unsurfaced throughout the winter.

Of course, DOT, is also the same august institution that gave us the amazing Technicolor yellow roll-your-own street striping a few years ago. You remember it? No more painting, just unroll and apply? Extra stickum for high traffic areas? It apparently had a slight problem. When it got wet (an admittedly rare occurrence around these parts), it came unglued from the street and ended up flaking off on cars, tires, and passing pedestrians. But I digress.

This Tongass-Water-Front street work is also creating the somewhat novel event of two way traffic through the tunnel. It's pretty fun - and my son agrees - to go through the tunnel both ways for a change. It also shows that it is wide enough to handle two way traffic. Maybe we should get rid of traffic altogether on that congested stretch around the tunnel? But then we'd lose the tunnel's "notoriety." (only tunnel in the country that you can drive through, over and around. I'm still waiting for the state to suggest building a road under the tunnel to further relieve congestion!).

We are also gaining the pleasure of re-learning the car slalom, where you look ahead and see a pretty darned confusing array of red plastic safety signage and have to try to determine which ones you are supposed to go left around, which ones you go right around and which ones you just blast right through like Bode Miller or Jean Claude Killy.

So - if we have to schuss our vehicles back and forth between the signage (and hope the guy driving that big dump truck in the other lane has equally quick slalom reflexes) - how do we make the best of it?

As usual, Ketchikan residents are griping about money - or the lack of it thereof. We just can't build or fund everything we want because..well, because there isn't enough money in the world (not even in Bill Gates' seat cushions) to build or fund everything we want and desire.

But be that as it may, we could build or fund a lot more things if we looked at the obvious. The Annual Ketchikan Street Break Up lottery.

Sometime in the mid winter, we put a "tripod" in the middle of Tongass Avenue. Then we get people to chip in a dollar or so for tickets and pick a time when the street break up will begin. Such as "I think the first jackhammer will penetrate Tongass Avenue at 9:31 am on April 10!" Whoever wins gets part of the jackpot and the rest goes into the "Let's Build or Fund Everything We've Ever Wanted to Build or Fund" Fund!

Frankly, you can get people to bet a buck on just about anything. Especially if you make it seem like a deal.

We could offer special packs of tickets to our summer "guests" Something "One dollar each or three for five dollars." Anyone who believes that Tanzanite is either (a) rare or (b) from Alaska will certainly go for that.

All of us susceptible to the lure of the quick score. Especially if we see ourselves winning a couple hundred thousand dollars later. Doesn't matter if the odds are seven zillion to one. I - as the better - will be that one who wins. It's American optimism at its finest. It is my own personal economic manifest destiny!

I will grant you that a "Street Breakup" lottery lacks the essential Alaska cache of the Nenana Ice Classic. But for my money (three tickets for five dollars!) nothing says "Ketchikan" more than the streets being torn up all summer.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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