Alaska Highway reconstruction funding nixed

Funding for the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway had disappeared from the most recent U.S. transportation bill.

Funding for the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway had disappeared from the most recent U.S. transportation bill.

The lapse in funding for the Shakwak project came as a surprise, said Allan Nixon of Yukon’s Department of Highways and Public Works.

“We didn’t think they were actually going to get a new bill in place – our contacts in Washington said the same thing. Lo and behold at the eleventh hour they crafted a deal that got through the House and the Senate, and one of the things that got cut at the last minute was the Shakwak funding.”

Under the 1977 Shakwak Agreement, the U.S. agreed to pay for a paved highway between the border along the Haines Road and the border north of Beaver Creek.

But the agreement has not yet been fulfilled. While most of the Haines Road is now paved, as are some sections of the Alaska Highway north of Haines Junction, reconstruction on the northern stretches of the highway is incomplete.

Permafrost in the area makes the ground unstable, as anyone who has travelled that stretch of road can attest. Pavement cannot be put down until the ground has been stabilized, which is an expensive proposition.

The vast majority of Yukon highways are made from bituminous surface treatment, or chipseal, which is cheaper and easier to install than asphalt pavement, but doesn’t last as long.

But asphalt is the standard for U.S. highways. That is why that government agreed to pay for pavement along sections of the Alaska Highway, the only land link between mainland Alaska, the panhandle and the Lower 48.

Canada is responsible for providing the materials, managing the reconstruction and paying for ongoing maintenance costs.

Once the border-to-border stretch of highway has been fully paved, the U.S. will have fulfilled its end of the bargain and will no longer inject money into the project.

Yukon has enough money banked to continue to pay for the project for another three or four years, said Nixon. Regular maintenance will continue regardless.

The new transportation bill lapses after two years, so the task now is to convince politicians that the funding should be reinstated next time around, he said.

“With everything else going on in Washington right now, it’s not a great time to be walking in as a Canadian and saying, ‘You got any money for us?’” said Nixon.

The Shakwak Agreement itself has not lapsed, he said, only the funding for it.

The Yukon will continue to advocate for the project as an issue of economic, energy and military security for Americans, said Nixon.

“The Alaskans understand the importance of it,” he said. It just loses resonance the further away from Alaska you get.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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