Alaska Governor Seeks New Freight Corridor Bridges

truck on Alaska road
Lee Rodegerdts/Alaska Moves 2050

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Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy wants to replace five aging bridges in a $117 million package of budget amendments introduced Feb. 15 to the state Legislature.

If funded in the amended budget for the 2024 fiscal year, the new bridges will significantly improve travel along the Alaska Richardson and Steese Highways.

The condition of the five aging bridges, part of a freight corridor, have presented longtime challenges for heavy freight haulers traveling to and from Canada and between the Port of Valdez and the North Slope.

Replacing the bridges will upgrade the crossings to current structural and seismic standards, including bridge railings designed for modern vehicles and highway speeds. The new ones will be built with a design life of 75 years.

“We have bridge infrastructure on our National Highway System routes in the interior that date back to the World War II era,” said Ryan Anderson, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. “We have a great opportunity to replace aging assets, improve safety, and ensure economic vitality to Alaska’s interior.”

On a primary overland route from Canada to Alaska, three functionally obsolete bridges are along the Alaska Highway at the Gerstle, Johnson and Robertson rivers. The plan is to have new ones that eliminate load restrictions and extend the road’s service life.

Both the Robertson and Gerstle bridges were built in 1944 and are well below modern width standards.

“The Gerstle River bridge is a height-restricted, overhead-truss structure. These restrictions impede commercial truckloads and make them vulnerable to strikes and subsequent damage and load limitations,” according to DOT&PF.

A new bridge on the Richardson Highway at the Chena Flood Control Bridge would eliminate the need for bypass for heavy loads on the critical interstate freight route connecting Alaska’s interior to the Port of Valdez as well as Canada.

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Overseeing 5,600 miles of highway, the DOT&PF wants to build a new bridge at the Steese Highway and undercrossing at Chena Hot Springs Road to replace a 45-year-old bridge there and void the possibility of load restricting it. Funds would also pay to improve roadside hardware and drainage.

Nearly 50% of Alaska’s economy depends on the performance of its freight transportation, characterized by long supply chains.

Alaska has a relatively simple highway system where often there is only one route between important origins and destinations. With only four main interstates, Alaska has only 12% of its state-owned roads classified as urban while the remainder are rural.