Dalton To Re-Open, But Repairs Still Needed

The Alaska Department of Transportation plans to re-open the flood damaged northern stretch of the Dalton Highway to traffic Friday morning. The opening will follow a nearly three-week closure caused by melt out of unusually heavy overflow ice from the Sag River.

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Work on the Dalton Highway where flood water caused erosion and melting. CREDIT ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Work on the Dalton Highway where flood water caused erosion and melting.

Alaska Department of Transportation Northern Region Director Dave Miller says erosion repairs between Dalton Highway mile posts 356 and 414, south of Deadhorse, have progressed well since water levels began dropping late last week.

Miller provided an update on the Dalton’s status during a presentation to the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday, describing an all out assault by contractors working to open the highway.

Miller adds that some flood damage is requiring special attention, including an exposed pipeline crossing at mile 399.

The flood repairs will be followed by planned and expanded projects to elevate portions of the Highway. The projects, originally designed to reduce drifting, will also help keep the road surface above overflow ice and flooding. Miller attributes this year’s trouble to heavy rains that fell last fall on the Brooks Range elevating groundwater levels dramatically along the Dalton Highway-Trans Alaska Pipeline corridor.

Miller adds that when the Sag River froze to the bottom this winter, off ice began rapidly accumulating, engulfing the Dalton Highway, which parallels the river.  He says it’s unclear how unique an event it was, but DOT won’t wait to find out.

The Dalton Highway is a primary supply conduit for the North Slope oil industry, but Miller says the latest closure has not been a big problem for them, because it was after oil companies had gotten through the busy season of moving equipment and supplies related to ice road accessed field sites, and because the Dalton closure was anticipated, and the companies stocked up on fuel and other supplies before break up flooding shut the road down.  This spring’s emergency Dalton Highway repairs have already cost 5 million dollars. Miller says most of the repair bill will likely be picked up by the federal government.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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