Sad shape of rural roads stirs elder's skepticism

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

The Road Series

HAINES­ Klukwan elder Ruth Kasko isnt one for the road.

She has seen what the elements and neglect can do to them and a car in rural Alaska.

But on a recent Saturday she needed to join relatives at Chilkat Valley Arts, and that meant a 22-mile drive into downtown Haines.

Its a fairly straight shot southeast down the Haines Highway, but it troubles her. She knows that a highway crew probably hasnt done anything about the rural route since her last experience on it.

"There are bumps on the road that need to be fixed," she said. "You dont always know theyre there, but you hit them. I broke all the seals in my car because of those bumps."

The short main road in Klukwan, population 139, is riddled with potholes. Its hard to drive when its clear, much less covered in snow.

"I remember when my uncle used to work in Klukwan," said Lorraine Kasko, Ruths daughter, a counselor for Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium in Haines. "They never worried about what time it was. If it needed to be plowed, it was plowed. If it needed to be sanded, it was done. Its not that way anymore, and its always because of budget cuts."

"We dont get plowed out until late evening," Ruth said. "If we had a fire in our village how would they get there? The DOT doesnt take care of that. They have to take care of the roads we have now before being able to maintain a road from Juneau."

The Alaska Department of Transportations Juneau road proposal includes a maintenance station halfway to Skagway. But in Kaskos experience, the states diligence is in question.

Last year, when Ruth got sick, Lorraine visited her every week at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau. She took the ferry. Ruth was there for a month and a half.

"If we had to depend on a road thats not going to be maintained, we wouldnt be able to do that," Lorraine said. "They rarely make it year to year maintaining these roads that we have."

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