Heavy rain, late breakup closes Taylor Highway

More than a foot of water submerges road in some areas

Posted: Sunday, June 18, 2000

FAIRBANKS - The Department of Transportation has closed the Taylor Highway because of heavy rains and a late breakup.

The road, which was closed Thursday, connects Eagle to the rest of Alaska's road system. It was not expected to be reopened until Sunday because water was 14 inches deep in places.

``We had three days of solid rain,'' said Eagle museum director Jean Turner. ``There was no snow melt before that because May was so cold.''

Turner said the heavy rain melted snow from the Mertie Mountains and that the water has ``come down all at once'' onto the road.

The highway connects the town of Eagle and its 165 residents to Tok. The winding gravel thoroughfare, open just summers, is one of two links to and from Eagle by road, though many people travel there by plane or boat.

The other is the Top of the World Highway, which runs from Dawson City and intersects the Taylor north of Chicken. That highway is open, allowing travel on the open upper portion of the Taylor.

For now, the closing leaves three Gray Line of Alaska tour bus drivers stranded in Eagle and two both in Dawson City and Tok.

``The people in Eagle are having kind of a mini-vacation,'' said Ken Bechtel, division manager of the Holland America-owned company.

The company has chartered planes to keep their tours on schedule. Those who would have taken a cruise to or from Eagle are bypassing that leg of the trip and flying over the highway. The bus drivers in Dawson City and Tok are helping coordinate the flights.

``We can count on this happening on a yearly basis, that the road will be washed out or closed due to forest fires,'' Bechtel said. ``Guests are very understanding. I think they see it as part of their Alaskan adventure.''

Water is crossing the road at Mile 65, said Mary Coulman, DOT administrative assistant. At Miles 82 and 83 the hill is sliding into the road. ``It's a real little goat trail up there,'' Coulman said.

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