Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Alaska Highway, also "Alaskan Highway", "Alaska-Canadian Highway", "Al-Can Highway", runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska, via Whitehorse, Yukon. Its historical length as of all-weather completion in 1943 is 2,451 kilometres or 1,523 mile(s) long. The historic ending of the highway is near milepost 1422, where it meets the Richardson Highway in Delta Junction, Alaska, about 100 miles (160km) southeast of Fairbanks. Mileposts on the Richardson Highway are numbered from Valdez, Alaska.
The road was originally built mostly by the US Army as a supply route during World War II. There were four main thrusts in building the route: southeast from Delta Junction toward a linkup at Beaver Creek, Yukon; north then west from Dawson Creek (an advance group started from Fort Nelson after travelling on winter roads on frozen marshland); both east and west from Whitehorse after being ferried in via the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. The Army commandeered equipment of all kinds, including local riverboats, railway locomotives destined for Iran, and housing originally meant for use in southern California. The eastern linkup occurred at historic Mile 588, known today as Contact Creek.
Although it was completed on October 28, 1942 and its completion was celebrated at Soldier's Summit on that November 21 (and broadcast by radio, the exact outdoor temperature censored due to wartime concerns), the "highway" was not usable by general vehicles until 1943. Even then, there were many steep grades, the surface was poor, there were few or no guardrails, and switchbacks to gain and descend hills. Bridges, which progressed during 1942 from pontoon bridges to temporary log bridges, were replaced with steel bridges where necessary only. The easing of the Japanese invasion threat resulted in no more contracts being given to private contractors for upgrading of specific sections.
In particular, some 100 miles of route between Burwash Landing and Koidern, Yukon, became virtually impassable in May and June of 1943, as the permafrost melted, no longer protected by a layer of delicate vegetation. A corduroy road was built to restore the route, and corduroy still underlays old sections of highway in the area. Modern construction methods do not allow the permafrost to melt, either by building a gravel berm on top or replacing the vegetation and soil immediately with gravel.
The Canadian government purchased the highway from the US government shortly after the war for more than $100 million. However, the highway needed considerable reconstruction to make it usable and was only opened to unrestricted traffic in 1947. The Alaska Highway is now completely paved.
The Milepost, an extensive guide book to the Alaska Highway and other highways in Alaska and Northwest Canada, was first published in 1949 and continues to be published annually as the foremost guide to travelling the highway.
The Yukon government owns the highway from Historic Mile 630 to 1016 (from near Watson Lake to Haines Junction), and manages the remainder to the US border. Public Works Canada manages the highway from Mile 630 back to approximately Mile 80. The British Columbia government owns the remainder of the highway south.
Extensive rerouting in Canada has shortened the highway by approximately 35 miles since 1947, mostly by eliminating winding sections and sometimes by bypassing residential areas. Some old sections of the highway are still in use as local roads, while others are left to deteriorate and still others are ploughed up. Four sections form local residential streets in Whitehorse (3) and Fort Nelson (1), and others form country residential roadways outside of Whitehorse. Although Champagne was bypassed in 2002, the old highway is still completely in service for that community until a new direct access road is built.
Rerouting continues even into 2005, with the Haines Junction-Beaver Creek section covered by the Canada-U.S. Shakwak Agreement. Under Shakwak, U.S. federal highway money is spent for work done by Canadian contractors who win tenders issued by the Yukon government. The Shakwak Project completed the Haines Highway upgrades in the 1980s between Haines Junction and the Alaska Panhandle, then funding was stalled by Congress for several years.
The Milepost shows the Canadian section of the highway now to be approximately 1187 miles, but the first milepost inside Alaska is 1222. The actual length of the highway inside Alaska is no longer clear because rerouting, as in Canada, has shortened the route, but unlike Canada, mileposts in Alaska are not recalibrated. The B.C. and Yukon governments and Public Works Canada have recalibrated kilometreposts only as far as a point just west of Champagne, with the latest BC recalibration in 1990 and the only Yukon recalibration in 2002 (based on the distance value where the BC calibration of 1990 left off).
There are historical mileposts along the B.C. and Yukon sections of the highway, installed in 1992, that note some 60 to 70 specific locations, although the posts no longer represent accurate driving distance.
Other roads that join the Alaska Highway include, from South to North:
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