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Department proposes overhaul of Dalton Highway

DOT wants to reroute dangerous section

Posted: December 22, 2013 - 12:07am

FAIRBANKS — The state transportation department has proposed rerouting a dangerous section of Alaska’s northernmost highway amid growing traffic.

The Dalton Highway is primarily a long-haul trucking road used to carry supplies to Prudhoe Bay. But it’s increasingly being used by tourists, leading to accidents, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The department’s plan includes a proposal to reroute a 7 ½-mile stretch of the roadway, which connects the Elliott Highway to Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope. A department engineering manager, Sarah Schacher, called that area the most hazardous part of the 414-mile Dalton Highway due to the mountainous terrain.

Under the plan, the intersection of the Dalton and Elliott highways would be moved about a mile to the south, and a new road would be built that passes through a nearby valley instead. This is the best way to avoid the switchbacks and 12 percent grades that make the stretch dangerous, Schacher said.

“You can’t literally move a mountain,” she said.

Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. originally built the road to provide access to the massive oil field and the trans-Alaska pipeline. The Livengood-to-Yukon River portion of the highway was built in 1971 but wasn’t really meant to be more than a supply road, Schacher said.

More than 60 percent of Dalton traffic is by truck.

Construction costs for the two-year state project are estimated at $35 million to $45 million and would be paid with federal highway funds. Construction could begin as early as 2017, depending on the permitting process.

Schacher said the proposed reroute would go through state land and would still be subject to environmental reviews, including a look at the possible impact on about 40 acres of wetlands near the planned roadway.

A public comment period is planned for next year, but the department also is seeking input on the proposal to include in the project’s initial development. Those comments are due by Tuesday.

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