Alaska Highway

By | October 18, 2022

 

BC-97
Get started Dawson Creek, BC
End Delta Junction, AK
Length 2,232 km
Route
Dawson Creek

Fort St. John

Fort Nelson

Watson Lake

whitehorse

Haines Junction

tok

Delta Junction

The Alaska Highway is a highway in Canada and the US state of Alaska. It is the primary road link to Alaska and runs from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction for 2,232 kilometers.

  • ElectronicsMatter: State facts of Alaska, covering history, geography, demography, economics, politics, and administrative division of Alaska.

Travel directions

British Columbia

The Alaska Highway begins in Dawson Creek, a town of 12,000 in northeastern British Columbia. The first 450 kilometers of the route heads north to Fort Nelson and continues east of the Rocky Mountains. To the west is a view of snow capped mountains. The route is immediately lonely, with only a few villages on the route. This part of the route is hilly and quite densely wooded. Just outside Fort Nelson, the Liard Highway turns off to Fort Simpson.

From Fort Nelson, the Alaska Highway heads west, gradually into the Rocky Mountains. The view is spectacular and the mountains are up to about 2,300 meters high, but look much higher due to its northern location. In northern British Columbia, the road runs parallel to the Liard River. This part is less mountainous again and briefly passes through the Yukon, before the road finally enters the Yukon Territory.

Yukon

In Yukon, the landscape becomes more mountainous again. The road generally runs in a northwesterly direction. One then reaches Whitehorse, a town of 23,000 inhabitants. In Whitehorse, the Klondike Highway branches off to the north. The Alaska Highway heads west. The mountains in this area are also over 2,000 meters high. Westwards the landscape becomes more and more spectacular, especially from Haines Junction, where the Haines Highway connects. The Alaska Highway runs along the base of the Mount Logan massif, Canada’s highest peak at 5,959 meters. The mountain itself is located in an inaccessible area, about 100 kilometers from the Alaska Highway. In the far west of Yukon, the mountains get lower.

  • Fun-wiki: Brief information of the state Alaska, covering basic history and geography as well as top cities of Alaska.

Alaska

In the American state of Alaska, the road continues to head northwest, via the village of Tok. This part leads through a fairly flat area, but on the last part up to Delta Junction, in good weather you have a view of Mount Hayes, which is more than 4,200 meters high. The Alaska Highway formally ends at Delta Junction. From there it is another 150 kilometers to Fairbanks.

Road numbers

The Alaska Highway is numbered as follows;

  • British Columbia: Highway 97
  • Yukon: Highway 1
  • Alaska: Route 2

History

The US state of Alaska was only accessible by ship from the west coast in the early 1900s, and later by plane. In the 1920s, plans arose to build the Alaska Highway, so that Alaska would also be accessible by road. The Canadian government initially showed little interest in the project, which was to build a thousands of miles of road that would connect only a few tens of thousands of Yukon residents.

Due to the presence of the Rocky Mountains, a relatively easterly route was chosen, starting in Dawson Creek and running largely outside or through the edge of the Rocky Mountains, rather than closer to the coast. The project barely made any progress during the 1930s, but the outbreak of World War II on the Pacific side of the world changed that. On February 6, 1942, the United States military approved the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Canadian government approved the project on the condition that the costs were borne by the United States. Another condition was that the road came under Canadian control after the end of the war.

Original plans envisioned a more westerly route starting in Prince George. The US military chose a route further east that was closer to recently constructed airfields between Edmonton and Whitehorse.

The construction of the Alaska Highway started on March 8, 1942. The road was built at a very fast pace, in July 1942 no less than 643 kilometers of the road was built, thanks to the long daylight in the summer, double shifts were possible. The road was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers, more than 10,000 military personnel work in the wilderness to build the Alaska Highway. They worked 7 days a week, under difficult conditions, especially the many mosquitoes and flies were very uncomfortable.

Because conventional building methods were not suitable, new solutions had to be devised. Normally, part of the soil would be excavated, but this caused the permafrost to thaw and everything in the soil sank. A so-called ‘corduroy road’ was constructed, these are logs over which gravel was laid to build the road. The road was therefore not constructed 36 feet wide as planned, but only 12 to 18 feet, between 3.5 and 5.5 meters wide.

The Alaska Highway was officially opened on September 24, 1942 after less than eight months of work. The road was very basic, a narrow, winding road with poor road surface and few guide rails at precipices. Bridges were temporary pontoon bridges at the time. The US military then turned the road over to the Public Roads Administration, which hired civilian contractors to improve the road with steel bridges and upgrade sections of the road.

On April 1, 1946, the road was handed over to the Canadian Army and in 1948 the road was opened to the public. The road was unsuitable for high speeds and rain frequently made the Alaska Highway impassable in the 1950s. The road was originally constructed for rapid transportation of goods to Alaska, but was impractical for civilian purposes in northwestern Canada. Various routes on the Canadian part have changed route since the 1960s, so that the route has been shortened by 56 kilometers. In the 1950s and 1960s, improvements in Yukon were limited to the southeast portion of Whitehorse, because there are few places further west.

The original Alaska Highway was largely a gravel road. Summer permafrost melting was a frequent problem. The part in Alaska was paved during the 1960s. The route has only been paved in Canada since the 1970s and 1980s.

Between 2022 and 2026, the Nisutlin Bay Bridge in Yukon was replaced for $160 million.

Future

In 1970, the United States Congress asked the Canadian government to improve the Shakwak Highway to better connect southeastern Alaska with the rest of Alaska. This includes the Haines Highway from Haines to Haines Junction, and the Alaska Highway north of it to the Alaska border. It includes 525 kilometers of road. The aim is to upgrade the Alaska Highway on this route into a modern two-lane road capable of driving 100 km/h. Most of it has now been completed.

Plans were launched in 2015 to widen 40 kilometers of the Alaska Highway in the Whitehorse region to a 2×2 divided highway. This project was canceled again in 2017.

Traffic intensities

In British Columbia, 2,000 vehicles drove daily between Dawson Creek and Fort St. John. In Fort Nelson, 5,000 vehicles and 500 vehicles drove west of Fort Nelson. There were also 500 vehicles in the south of Yukon, rising to 2,000 to 4,500 vehicles in Whitehorse. This then drops to just 200 vehicles on the Alaska border. West of Haines Junction, about 85% of traffic is American vehicles.

Alaska Highway