Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Deputy Commissioner Frank Richards told legislators June 13 in Fairbanks that Shakwak funds are expected to be cut in the next Congressional highway appropriation.
This affects work on the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway, because since the late 1970s the U.S. government has provided funding for highway upgrades, with Canada providing right of way and maintenance.
Shakwak funds came up in Richards’ presentation on transportation-related gas pipeline issues, as the Alaska Highway is how gas pipeline materials would get to Alaska overland, including any that might come in at Haines and then go overland for either the Canadian or Alaska sections of a highway gas pipeline.
The Alaska Highway, connecting Alaska with the Lower 48, runs through the Yukon. It is also the road connection, via the Haines Road, between tidewater in Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state. Combined with the state ferry system, it provides the road link between Juneau and the rest of Alaska.
North of Haines Junction, 85 percent of the traffic volume on the Yukon section of the Alaska Highway is of U.S. origin, Yukon Highways and Public Works says on its Web site (www.hpw.gov.yk.ca/trans/engineering/shakwak.html).
WWII military-constructed roadThe Alaska Highway was built during World War II for overland military access to Alaska and “has been under reconstruction since the day it was built,” the Yukon department said, with civilian contractors following behind the U.S. military. Responsibility for the road passed to Canada after WWII, but the U.S. was still interested in the Haines Road and the north end of the Alaska Highway.
Canada did considerable work on the Alaska Highway starting in the south, but by the 1970s the Yukon section north of the Haines junction had received little attention. In 1977, following 22 years of discussions, the U.S. and Canada signed the Shakwak Agreement, named for a valley, the Shakwak Trench, which runs through much of the area.
The U.S. provided the money for upgrading the 325 northernmost miles of the Alaska Highway in Canada (50 miles in northwestern British Columbia, the rest in the Yukon) and Canada provided right of way and maintenance. Yukon is responsible for managing the site work.
Work on the portion of the Haines Road that is in Canada and 134 miles of the Alaska Highway between Haines Junction and the Canada-U.S. border north of Beaver Creek has been completed; contracts are under way covering 36 miles.
Yukon funding 60% ShakwakAlaska DOT&PF officials met with representatives of the Yukon Ministry of Transport in May and Yukon’s ability to improve its highways in advance of pipeline construction was discussed, he said. Richards said the discussions are ongoing, and he will be back in the Yukon later in the summer.
He told legislators some 60 percent of Yukon’s capital program for highway work comes from Shakwak funding. The next reauthorization of the federal highway bill is due out in 2009, he said, and “there is great anticipation that that Shakwak funding will not be there, so that would mean that that will significantly impact the Yukon government and their ability to address the highway needs.”