Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:46 PM on Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Road name chaos can be avoided; borough needs to follow its rules

By Chip Sorensen

Do you have the feeling you might be lost? You were just driving along This Street (a straight road) when you suddenly notice that the street signs say you're now on Another Street. You didn't turn or change directions, so what happened? Then you recall that you crossed an intersection with Major Highway. But, why would the street name change just because of that? After all, Kenai Peninsula Borough statute 14.10.040.A.3 states that a road "which is a direct extension or has the same alignment as an existing named right-of-way, shall bear the existing name." It would seem that whoever named Another Street was out of compliance with the statute. Who done it?

For the answer to that, you'd have to look to the Kenai Peninsula Borough government itself. Within the Planning Department, there's a position set up to specifically deal with the issue of road names and addresses. This is to implement the "Enhanced 911" system, so emergency responders can find your location if you're having a medical emergency or your house is burning down. Nothing wrong with that.

And, there's a logical system for the assignment of names and addresses. If you ever wondered how your house number came to be, there are 1,000 numbers per mile as measured from the Seward Principal Meridian and the Seward Base Line. Nothing wrong with that either.

The problem arises when the person charged with implementing this system (the road name czar) thinks that emergency responders won't know whether to turn right or left. The road name czar's solution to this problem has been to rename a roadway to something else whenever it crosses another major roadway. Now, there is something wrong with that.

Not only is it in direct violation of the borough's statute governing road names, but the continued practice of this misguided notion will result in roads with many names. For example, Main Street in Homer, intersects with the Homer Bypass; one block to the north it intersects Pioneer Avenue. Obviously, the section south of the Bypass should carry one name; the section between the Bypass and Pioneer should carry another and the section north of Pioneer, yet another. So, who gets to retain the original name and who will have to change their address to comply with the new naming program?

There's going to be a battle over historical precedent versus the greater number of people affected. Extend this problem across the entire borough and you have road name chaos that should guarantee the continued employment of the road name czar for years to come. There must be a better way.

The logical solution is already embodied within the statutes governing the assignment of street names and addresses. Since 1,000 numbers per mile equates to a new address number every 5.28 feet and roadways are wider than that, it follows that if each side of an intersection were assigned an address number, based on the location of the sign itself, they would indicate not only where you are in the address system, but also which way to turn to find a particular address.

For example, if you're looking for your friend's place at 47650 View Ave. and you come to the intersection of Big Highway and View Avenue, all you need to do is look at the number signs on each side of the roadway. There you see one sign reading 38764 and the other reading 38753. Since the address you're looking for is a higher number than the ones on the signs, you know you turn toward the higher numbered sign. And vice versa.

The simple addition of a few number signs at the intersections, where they're needed, would guarantee that emergency personnel would be able to arrive at their destination without delay or confusion and the borough could implement a logical road naming system that would follow the statutes and let the citizens of the borough live without unnecessary interference in their lives.

The scenario above is not a fabrication. The borough recently renamed the section of road that I live on, which had previously carried the same name for more than 50 years. They had to go counter to their own statutes to do it.

Maybe I should feel honored since the street I live on now bears my name. However, it's a major hassle to be forced to change my address and notify everyone of that — family, friends, Post Office, banks, etc. The borough even told me that I personally have to notify the Borough Assessing Department. I guess that's because now they can't find me.

I proposed the number sign idea to the head of the Borough Planning Department and it was well received. However, I have no idea whether it'll be implemented. My hope is that anyone else finding themselves in a situation similar to this will demand that the borough follow its own rules and that they will have this idea to use as a lever to make that happen.

Chip Sorensen has lived in Homer for more than 39 years. He's lived at the same location on Yukon Street for the last 23 years, until the borough recently changed the name of the southern section of Yukon Street, where he still resides, to Sorensen Street.