Whittier road scheduled to open in June

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2000

ANCHORAGE - The opening date for the new toll road to Whittier has been pushed back from May to early June, and recreational boat owners probably will get to haul their boats through the tunnel after all.

But the toll, vehicle width and hours for driving to Whittier have not yet been set, and that's causing problems for some tour operators.

``I've sent them a nasty-gram,'' said Brad Phillips, owner of Phillips Cruises, a tour operator that offers cruises on Prince William Sound. ``They don't understand how important these things are. In order to price things, we have got to know how much it is going to cost.''

Dennis Poshard with the state Department of Transportation and said those decisions must go through a regulatory review process before the road can open. That should be sometime within the next several weeks, he said.

The state plans to set up a Website and telephone line to provide daily information about toll road operations.

Whittier, an old military outpost, sits on the far western shores of Prince William Sound. The community's current link to the rest of Alaska is via a 30-minute train ride on a 12.5-mile railroad spur that travels through two tunnels.

Road construction began in 1997, after years of lobbying by some of the town's 200 residents and by tourism operators.

In the past, about 100,000 tourists took the train to Whittier every summer. With the new road, annual visitor numbers are expected to grow to 1.2 million by 2002. The Alaska Railroad plans to scale back its passenger service to Whittier.

While the maximum vehicle width has not been set, it will be greater than the 8-foot-6-inch limit originally proposed. The tunnel is 15 feet wide, but transportation officials wanted the 8-foot-6 limit because pullouts inside the tunnel won't accommodate anything wider than that.

State officials decided to reconsider because dozens of recreational boat owners complained at public hearings last fall.

Until now, boat owners were able to get their boats to Whittier by loading them onto railroad flat cars. But the railroad had planned to stop that service once the road opened. Officials said it may continue the service.

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