U.S. gov’t paying to upgrade section of Alaska Highway in the Yukon

The Alaska Highway south of Beaver Creek, Yukon, in September 2022. New funding will go toward upgrades to the highway between Destruction Bay, Yukon, and the Alaska border, also known as the Shakwak corridor. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

By Gabrielle Plonka, CBC News 

$42.6M has been pledged for the project

The Alaskan government has pledged $42.6 million for improvements to a 225-kilometre stretch of the Alaska Highway.

The funds will upgrade the Yukon side of the highway, which runs between Destruction Bay and the Yukon/Alaska border, also known as the Shakwak corridor.

That section of the highway has been badly damaged by thawing permafrost. Because the Alaska Highway covers permafrost, rising temperatures have affected the ground’s stability beneath the road, causing distorted road surfaces with cracks and potholes.

Some sections of the road will need to be rebuilt entirely, according to Yukon Highways Minister Nils Clarke. That could involve raising the road 15 to 20 feet in some sections so it’s less vulnerable to thaw, similar to related upgrades on the North Klondike Highway.

Nils Clarke, the Yukon minister of Highways and Public Works, speaks at a funding announcement for the Alaska Highway at the Whitehorse Grader Station on Tuesday. (Gabrielle Plonka/CBC)

The upgrades will also include resurfacing the road and improving its drainage.

Construction is set to begin in 2025, and the project is expected to be completed in 2027.

The $42.6 million is being furnished by the U.S. government’s statewide transportation improvement program via the Alaskan government.

Clarke said the Yukon is not expected to financially contribute beyond usual maintenance, and he is expecting some American supervisory personnel to be involved in the project.

A revival of former Yukon-Alaska funding agreements

Highway maintenance was once a shared responsibility between the Yukon and Alaska, according to the 1976 Shakwak Agreement signed by both governments.

The American side of that funding agreement dried up in 2015.

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai said this new commitment has been a long time coming.

The Shakwak corridor of the Alaska Highway will be upgraded between the U.S./Canada border and Destruction Bay. (Yukon government)

“There’s always been a perspective that there’s an obligation by the U.S. government,” Pillai said. “This has been 10 years that we’ve been trying to get something done here.”

In early February, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy visited the Yukon to sign a memorandum of understanding. That memorandum pledged future collaboration, beginning with highway improvements.

Pillai said he also wants to see future cross-boundary agreements, including partnerships to help Yukon and Alaskan students attend university on the other side of the border.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Feds announce more money for Arctic defence with few details on infrastructure, CBC News

Russia: Putin in Arkhangelsk: Arctic industry and infrastructure on agenda, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. Navy to build airport infrastructure in North Norway to meet upped Russian submarine presence, The Independent Barents Observer

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