The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the North Slope Borough are looking at two possible routes for an all-season road tying the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska into the state road system.
The new industrial road, part of a developing state transportation plan being studied by planners, would cross the Colville River, creating a new staging area for westward exploration work by Alaska's oil industry.
"Ice road seasons are shrinking, yet the oil industry is trying to extend into NPR-A, and it's a tough show for them," said Mike McKinnon, senior planner at DOT&PF. "We're wondering if this kind of road would both assist development and bring things on-line earlier."
One route being considered would come off the existing oil field road network, probably around the Tarn development, McKinnon said. That road would extend west across the Colville. Total length would be 18 miles.
The other route, about 70 miles long, would be built independent of existing North Slope road infrastructure. “It follows decent (road building) terrain, somewhere from Nuiqsut east and south,” McKinnon said.
That route would intersect the Dalton Highway roughly 40 miles south of Deadhorse. “We may come back and look at other types of connections that are further north,” McKinnon said.
DOT&PF hopes to produce a draft plan for this road project proposal in March 2003, with a final plan out later that year. Should funds be secured for such a project, construction would be several years in the future, McKinnon said.
In a separate construction project, villagers from Nuiqsut could gain summer road access to the Colville River under a Bureau of Indian Affairs road project. An existing gravel road leading east out of town would be extended to the river, providing a boat launch and possible barge landing site.
The North Slope industrial road idea came about during talks with oil companies, Nuiqsut villagers and research in developing the Northwest Alaska Transportation Plan, McKinnon said. “We saw that, while mining and coal is not going fast in any particular direction, oil and gas — especially NPR-A — has some potential,” McKinnon said. “Based on the revenue source we get out of oil as a state, that kind of investment might make sense.”