Alaska Notebook: Good roads so few, so cherished

Worst roads in the nation

The Reason Foundation has ranked Alaska last among the 50 states for the quality of its roads. What's striking about that is nothing -- except for the fact that we used to be 49th. How did we ever outrank any other state in the union?

It's too easy to take shots at Outsiders, especially when they use "interstate" in referring to our highways. Nobody up calls our highways interstate, probably because there's Canada between us and the interstate highway system.

"People traveling long distances from rural communities have to make those trips over bumpy roads." That came from David Hartgen, a fellow at the foundation and professor emeritus of transportation at the University of North Carolina.

Mr. Hartgen, people traveling short distances to the grocery store have to make those trips over bumpy roads in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Our potholes are a source of perverse pride; people in other parts of the country go spelunking in what we drive around.

And washboard? You don't have to leave the municipality to test your shocks. There's a reason Anchorage voters never fail to pass a road bond. The work never ends.

There are serious issues here of safety, engineering, expense and the smooth passage of commerce. Pioneer drillers risked their lives more than 30 years ago to blast rock and make the Seward Highway safer along Turnagain Arm. Maintenance crews risk their lives among careless drivers to fill yawning potholes on Spenard Road.

But Alaskans also delight in that lift of the spirit that comes when you cross from the thump 'n rattle of rutted gravel to the whisper of asphalt.

Last in roads, first in four-wheel drive. We appreciate a good road the way we appreciate a hot summer day -- deeply, because we have so few.

-- Frank Gerjevic