Alaska Highway travellers might be in for rough ride this summer

A highway truck navigates a rough patch on the Alaska Highway near the Canada-United States border crossing. (Claudiane Samson/SRC)
Travellers on the Alaska Highway between Haines Junction and the United States border may be in for a rough ride this summer.

Paul Murchison, director of transportation engineering with the Yukon government, said thawing permafrost is one of the culprits.

Murchison said this is a problem especially on the north part of the highway because “that road is underlain by permafrost that has a lot of ice in it.”

When that ice thaws, he said, volume under the road is lost as the ice turns into water and causes ups and downs in the road.

“Certainly our construction program there over the past number of years is focused on getting that road into good shape, especially that northern section.”Paul Murchison, director of transportation engineering with the Yukon government

Murchison said maintenance crews are working hard to do patching and spot repairs to keep the road safe.

“But that work that we do, it doesn’t hold for a long time because of the rate that the permafrost thaws, so we are definitely seeing some challenges up there.”Paul Murchison

He also said a forest fire near Destruction Bay last summer may have made things even worse this year. Murchison said the fire would have put additional heat into the ground and might be “accelerating the permafrost thaw in that area.”

He said the highway maintenance program under the Shakwak Agreement hasn’t received additional funding and was “fully exhausted” after last year’s construction season.

The international agreement with the United States covers the long-term upkeep of the Alaska Highway.

“We do continue to work with our counterparts in Alaska in looking at the opportunities for Shakwak funding or for other funding opportunities.”

The Yukon government will spend around $2.5 million maintaining the northern stretch of the highway this year.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Design of Alaska Highway upgrades in Whitehorse, Northern Canada displayed, CBC News

Norway: Norway to expand network of electric car chargers across Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Train traffic resumes in Russian Arctic as Murmansk reconnects with grid, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Extra billions to SAS – but with stricter climate requirements, Radio Sweden

United States: US Dept. of Transportation awards $25M for Port of Alaska upgrades, Alaska Public Media

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