A camper is driven along the Alaska Highway. The Yukon and Alaska governments are working to hook a $25 million U.S. federal grant to upkeep the highway between Beaver Creek, Yukon, and Haines, Alaska. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Yukon, Alaska governments apply for a grant to service Shakwak

Funding for the project has almost run out

The Yukon and Alaska governments are working to hook a $25 million U.S. federal grant to upkeep the Shakwak Project, a valuable stretch of the Alaska Highway.

A cost-sharing arrangement first pitched by the U.S. and in place since 1977, is almost dry, said, Richard Mostyn, minister of Highways and Public Works.

“We’ve been running on fumes for the last several years and now that money is about to run out,” he said. “We’re trying to find whatever we can to keep the maintenance work on the road going.”

The push is to cobble together funds to ensure the highway, between Beaver Creek and Haines, Alaska, is in good stead.

“This year, the funding will run out in totality. We’re spending $1.4 million this year on the last Shakwak money we had. After this, there won’t be any more,” Mostyn said.

Mostyn called the grant — officially titled the United States Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development — a “stopgap measure.”

“It’s very important, but it’s not a long-term solution. It would help. It would get us through a few years of maintenance. We need a long-term solution to this, and that hinges entirely on Washington,” he said.

To finish upgrading Shakwak would require roughly $340 million, Mostyn said.

Mostyn said the highway is “essential,” an asset of strategic importance to the entire continent.

“It’s a very important conduit for all of the people in the territory. It knits us together from Beaver Creek to Watson Lake. It also provides as a trade corridor to B.C. and Alaska and we benefit from that tremendously,” he said.

“We’re trying to find whatever we can to keep the maintenance work on the road going.”

Funds for Shakwak were depleted in 2015, said Marc Luiken, commissioner for the department of transportation and public facilities, noting that the Obama administration elected to not refinance it.

“It’s important for Alaska for that road to be maintained and in good condition so that goods and services and people can access Alaska through that surface transportation route. It’s one that’s used by certain organizations, certain companies to transport goods on. It is an important link to Alaska from the lower 48.

There’s a synergy between Alaska and the Yukon, Luiken noted, because both deal with similar challenges.

“We see the importance of getting our two organizations together more frequently to share techniques and ideas and thoughts about how best to maintain roads in this part of the world,” he said.

The application, if successful, will be signed off on in December.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignnac@yukon-news.com

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